Highly respected in most cultures worldwide, the elderly are a highly regarded as outstanding sources; full of life experience and wisdom. As a result of how time affects both the brain and body, they also have their own unique mental health needs. Geriatric Psychiatrists serve this growing niche population through careful consideration of both the biological and psychological aspects of aging.
What is a Geriatric Psychiatrist?
Geriatric Psychiatrists are medical doctors who focus on the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in the elderly. They hold either a (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and also frequently work to improve the state of psychiatric care for the elderly.
Geriatric Psychiatrists become experts in mental illnesses that tend to manifest later in life such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Furthermore, they maintain a thorough understanding of the emotional issues elderly individuals are most likely to face. According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, these often include grief over loss of a long-time spouse or loved ones, fear of death or sickness, coping with chronic or disease-related pain, feelings of isolation, anxiety and memory loss.
Additionally, a Geriatric Psychiatrist must have a complete understanding of treatment options, theories of therapy and the prescription/administration of medications.
In their day-to-day practice, Geriatric Psychiatrists may be responsible for:
Understanding the Educational Path to Become a Psychiatrist
A medical doctorate degree, psychiatric residency, and Geriatric Psychiatry fellowship are the primary educational requirements for a profession as a board-certified Geriatric psychiatrist. However, the educational path begins by receiving a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university.
Strong interpersonal skills, an understanding of emotions and specialized training in the social, psychological and medical aspects of the human mind are also requirements for becoming a successful Geriatric Psychiatrist. This skill set is often the focus of core educational course study while in college.
Earn a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor’s degree is the first higher-education step toward becoming a Geriatric Psychiatrist. Although Psychiatrists complete a broad range of undergraduate majors, students should complete the courses the American Association of Medical Colleges found most medical schools require as prerequisites: biology, physics, chemistry, along with written and oral communication course study.
During their undergraduate degree, students wanting to gain an edge in the competitive medical school application pool would benefit from taking career and advanced education oriented steps like joining pre-medical organizations, completing community service at mental health centers, shadowing physicians and studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Before graduating, a candidate should apply to medical school. Medical school is a four-year process, leading to an advanced degree in the medical field, either a M.D. or D.O.
Complete a medical school program
During medical school, future Geriatric Psychiatrists spend their first year primarily in the classroom absorbing knowledge in areas like anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry, psychology, ethics and preparing for Objective Structured Clinical Exams. The second year, while still in the classroom, is more clinically focused. Third and fourth year students move into clinical rotations and are exposed to a wide range of potential specializations, including psychiatry.
Complete a Residency
Following medical school, graduates pursuing psychiatry should elect to complete their four-year residency in the specialty. Psychiatry residents need to complete 36 months of additional training after the first year of general residency, as required by the American Psychiatric Association. These three years focus on specific training areas, such as psychopharmacology, substance abuse and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Complete a Fellowship in Geriatric Psychiatry
A one-year, post-residency fellowship in the subspecialty of Geriatric Psychiatry is critical for doctors aiming to enter the field. When searching for a fellowship, physicians should ensure the program they are pursuing is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and will both qualify and prepare them to sit for the subspecialty examination. Strong fellowships will include exposure to a full spectrum of clinical and academic experiences within geriatric psychiatry and gerontology, allowing fellows to acquire deep knowledge in pharmacotherapy and psychosocial interventions for mental disorders affecting seniors (New York University 2015).
Pass Sub Specialty Exam in Geriatric Psychiatry
Upon successful completion of a Geriatric Psychiatry fellowship, all psychiatrists must submit an application for examination. Once reviewed by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology credentials department, candidates are permitted to take the exam. After passing the exam, candidates become diplomats and start the “Maintenance of Certification” process, adhering to the Board's requirements for continued education.
Psychiatrists should be aware that board certification, which is necessary for legal practice, must be renewed every 10 years. Continued education is required in order to renew certification, and credits for the psychiatric field must meet specific standards. For more information about continuing education requirements, review the ABPN website.
Understanding the Career Path of Becoming a Geriatric Psychiatrist
Geriatric Psychiatry offers a variety of workplace settings, including but not limited to group and private practices, nursing homes, assisted living centers, veteran hospitals, and both short and long term inpatient facilities.
They may also teach courses to future doctors, the local community or physicians in other specialties, present research at conferences, write books and/or serve as evaluators for professional societies and boards.
Professional organizations can be used as a means for networking, community service, think tanks, research, continued education and specialized learning.
Geriatric Psychiatrist should join subspecialty specific professional groups such as the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP).
For general psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) dominates the market with a membership of more than 36,000. It is currently the world’s largest professional organization focused on psychiatry.
Although specific data is not stored regarding the subspecialty of Geriatric Psychiatry, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics mean annual wage for psychiatrists is $182,660.While a 2013 Medscape report found average compensation for psychiatrists was higher the pediatrics, internal medicine and family medicine, it still ranked in the lower third of physician incomes by specialty.
As the Baby Boomer population ages, the number of individuals older than 65 is expected to double in the next 20 years. Naturally, demand for geriatric psychiatrists is also expected to increase.
AMN Healthcare Company Merritt Hawkins found that psychiatry as a whole is one of the most in demand medical professions. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental disorder each year. Although psychiatric specialties have increased among medical residents, there is still a growing need for psychiatrists, offering a promising job outlook.