Exploring this Job
You can start exploring this field by reading as much as you can about the profession. Remember to visit Web sites of professional organizations for more career-related information. Ask your high school counselor or a science teacher to arrange for a career day in which a doctor from the local community can come in and speak to your class about the work. You can also talk with your family physician to find out what medical school and the work in general is like. There are also "Day in the Life" videos of geriatricians and other physicians available on YouTube.
One of the best introductions to a career in health care is to volunteer at a local hospital, clinic, or nursing home. In this way, it is possible to get a feel for what it's like to work around other health care professionals and patients. In some settings, such as nursing homes, you will also find out how well you like working with older people. Other volunteer opportunities exist to work with older people as well. Check with local agencies for seniors to see if there are any outreach programs you can join. In this way you'll have direct contact with the elderly. For example, you may be asked to become a "buddy" and visit with a senior on a regular basis. Again, this will help you determine how much you enjoy being around older people as well as give you the chance to discover what they have to offer.
Geriatricians spend most of their time with patients, taking patient histories, listening to their comments or symptoms, and running any of a number of diagnostic tests and evaluations, including physical examinations. Geriatricians generally see patients in a clinic, a long-term care facility, or a hospital. Each patient setting requires a unique type of patient care. Geriatricians often work with other physicians to diagnose and treat multiple problems and to provide the best possible care for each patient.
For example, an elderly man's complaint of fatigue could signal one or more of a large number of disorders. Diagnosis may be complicated by the coexistence of physical and mental problems, such as heart disease and dementia (mental confusion). This may mean consulting with a psychiatrist to treat the dementia and a cardiologist for the heart problems. Not only do geriatricians work with other medical personnel, they also work with family members and community services. Very often geriatricians work with the patient's family in order to get an accurate diagnosis, proper care, and follow-up treatment. If the patient is living alone, the geriatrician might also need the support of a social worker, neighbor, or relative to make certain that proper medication is administered and that the patient is monitored. If there is no cure for the patient's condition, the geriatrician must devise some way of helping the patient cope with the condition.
The job can be emotionally demanding and frustrating, as well as rewarding. Paperwork is also a large part of geriatricians' jobs as they must complete forms, sign releases, write prescriptions, and meet the requirements of Medicare and private insurance companies.