The U.S. Population Is Aging Rapidly. But The Number Of Medical Professionals To Care For These Patients Is Dropping.

Talks about what to do as the large population of baby boomers start to age and retire have been happening for the past few years. There were 77.3 million people born during this time period in the United States, and most of these people have now reached retirement age.

Most of the talks have been around Social Security and how to replenish the funds for the next generation. The biggest question on people’s minds is, “How will we fill all the resources left behind?” 

However, another important question to ask is, “Who is going to help care for these 77.3 million people?”

Studies show about 3 million baby boomers will hit retirement age every year for the next 20 years. Many boomers also had careers in the medical field. During this time, it was common for women wanting to enter the workforce to become nurses. Additionally, the boomer culture was one of excess and consumerism compared to past generations, celebrating life after many years of war.

Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine (March 2013) compared the health of baby boomers to their parents’ generation and found that boomers had higher rates of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, despite a higher life expectancy.

According to a study done by The Center for Health Workforce Studies at the School of Public Health at the University of Albany, State University of New York, jobs in the healthcare sector are projected to grow by 30% (more than 4.2 million jobs) between 2010 and 2020. This percentage of growth is twice as fast as the general economy. It also is in line with previous data about healthcare industry growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospitals and other medical based entities are offering higher salaries and large sign on bonuses to attract new workers to the medical field.

However, there are many areas of the medical field still showing shortages of providers. One of these areas is nursing. Although there seems to be more people enrolling in nursing school, many students are working towards higher level nursing degrees, such as Registered Nurse (R.N.) or Licensed Practical Nurse (L.P.N.), positions which generally deal with writing reports and contacting health insurance companies. People seeking employment in these higher positions still leaves a dearth in lower paid medical positions who are generally on the floor caring for patients, such as Certified Nursing Assistant (C.N.A.) or Certified Medical Assistant (C.M.A.). 

Higher rates of health issues coupled with the number of boomers working in the medical field on the verge of retirement makes the need for an increased number of healthcare professionals highly likely.

Additionally, reports from 2011 show there are 7,029 certified geriatric medical professionals in the U.S., and that number is falling. The number of geriatric specialists necessary to care for aging baby boomers should be around twice as many. Geriatric specialists are needed in all aspects of the medical field, from physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physical therapists, and, especially, family caregivers. Reports show declines in all of these areas when it comes to geriatric specialty.

The Elder Workforce Alliance (EWA) calls for an increase in recruitment, training, and retention of professionals in these fields, as well as additional compensation for participation in interdisciplinary teams.

They also suggest creating new models of care, such as innovation in facility design and mobile health, because they could lead to more effective and efficient care for the aging. Although there is currently a shortage in geriatric care, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be a significant increase in employment in the healthcare field. This growth is expected to be driven by more technological advances in patient care and a larger emphasis on preventative care. With a projected decrease in employment for other occupations, such as farming and production, we may see a shift of people from other fields into the healthcare field.

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.

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