By 2030, our region’s population over the age of 65 is projected to increase from approximately 127,000 to 202,000, and practically every county outside Hamilton exceeds the national health care provider-to-patient ratio for primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers. And the numbers are even worse when you look at geriatricians trained to handle the challenges of an aging population.
To respond to this growing need, the UTC School of Nursing has added several programs in gerontology, including a multidisciplinary minor for students in a variety of majors, including psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, social work, nursing, nutrition, pharmacy, medicine, and even business and nonprofit management.
“The biggest challenge to caring for the aging population is the lack of geriatric-trained healthcare providers,” says Dr. Britt Cusack, assistant professor of nursing and the Gregg Chair of Gerontology. “This program of study could benefit students who are interested in hospital or long-term care administration because it is beneficial to have knowledge about the population you are serving.”
The UTC School of Nursing was the first public university in Tennessee to be invited to join the National Hartford Center of Gerontological Nursing Excellence. The center’s goal is to ensure a strong gerontological workforce. The American Geriatrics Society projects a need for 30,000 geriatricians by 2030, which would require graduating 1,200 new geriatricians per year over the next 20 years. In 2010, only 75 residents entered geriatric medicine.
“One obstacle to caring for the aging population is the complexity of their healthcare needs,” says Cusack. “These clients may have five or more different specialty providers. For example, many elderly patients see a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, an endocrinologist, a neurologist, and a primary care provider. All five of these providers may be prescribing medication and ordering tests. The burden of care coordination tends to fall to the primary service provider who may already be faced with treating a panel of patients too large to consistently provide quality care.”
In addition to the minor program of study, UTC offers a bachelor of integrated studies degree with a concentration in gerontology and an online certificate in gerontology that offers 10 continuing education credits for interdisciplinary healthcare providers. Additionally, an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care nurse practitioner program provides the training needed to care for the aging population in the hospital setting.
Visit www.utc.edu/gerontology for more info.