Become a Geriatrician: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a geriatrician. Explore the education, hands-on experience, license and certification you'll need to start a career in geriatric medicine and help patients in an aging population. View article »

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  • 0:02 Geriatricians
  • 1:30 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:50 Step 2: Medical School
  • 3:27 Step 3: License & Training
  • 4:37 Step 4: Board Certification
  • 5:13 Step 5: Continuing Education

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Video Transcript


Geriatricians are physicians who specialize in the care of the elderly. They're trained to provide preventative care, evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation plans to meet the healthcare needs of the increasing aging population. These professionals focus especially on helping the elderly stay functionally independent in the face of chronic illnesses.

Geriatricians often work with failing or terminally ill patients, which can take an emotional toll.

While geriatricians may work in any type of medical care setting, many are employed by long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, or nursing homes. As with any healthcare-related career, geriatricians may face the risk of injury or illness when working with patients. Geriatric patients in particular may become confused or upset and react physically. Schedules may be irregular and exceed more than 40 hours a week.

Degree Level Medical degree
Degree Field Medicine
Licensure and Certification A license to practice medicine is required; voluntary specialty certifications are available
Experience At least three years of residency training in internal medicine followed by 1-2 years of fellowship training in geriatrics
Key Skills Strong communication and leadership skills, attention to detail, organizational skills, problem-solving skills, patience, empathy; computer skills including familiarity with complex healthcare programs, like eClinicalWorks software and Misys Healthcare Systems; technical skills such as the ability to use oxygen masks, resuscitation tools and other medical equipment
Salary (2016) $183,725 per year (median salary for a geriatrician in private practice)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Medical Student Association, O*Net OnLine, The American Geriatrics Society

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is typically required for admission to medical school. There is no required major, but the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) advises that students complete courses in basic chemistry, biology, organic chemistry and physics to meet medical school admissions standards.

Aspiring geriatricians might choose to concentrate their studies in any of these fields, or they may choose an unrelated major and supplement their education with electives in the required subjects. It's also important for undergraduates to maintain a high grade point average (GPA) since medical school admissions boards usually require at least a 3.5 GPA.

Success Tips:

  • Volunteer. According to the AAMC, medical school admissions tend to be highly competitive, and a high GPA may not be enough to help a student stand out. Volunteering at a local hospital, assisted-living center, hospice facility or health clinic can help aspiring geriatricians become familiar with elderly patients in a medical environment while also acquiring experience that can catch the eye of admissions boards.
  • Learn a foreign language. Geriatricians may work with patients and families who do not speak English. As such, learning a foreign language can help students succeed in this field and may help them stand out among other medical school applicants.

Step 2: Medical School

Undergraduates who are interested in applying to medical school must pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and most students sit for this exam during their junior year of college. The MCAT, which is offered in multiple-choice format, tests students on their writing and problem-solving skills and their basic understanding of medicine and science.

Once accepted into medical school, students complete four years of classroom, laboratory and clinical work. The first two years are usually devoted to learning the basics of medical practice and study of human diseases. During the third and fourth years, medical students participate in specialized clinical rotations, such as family medicine.

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Step 3: License & Training

To practice medicine in any state, all physicians, including geriatricians, must pass a licensing exam. The National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards sponsor the United States Medical Licensing Examination. This exam consists of three steps that test a student's ability to understand concepts and principles related to medicine as well as his or her patient-care skills.

After completing their medical licenses, aspiring geriatricians must complete a residency in internal medicine, which may be available through a hospital or clinic associated with a medical school. A residency usually lasts at least three years and includes clinical rotations in various medical specialties, such as cardiology, geriatrics, neurology and oncology. Residents may also attend lectures.

In the final phase of postsecondary training, licensed physicians participate in a 1-2 year geriatrics fellowship in an inpatient or outpatient clinic, hospice facility, nursing home or other healthcare setting. In addition to hands-on training in geriatrics, fellows participate in clinical research projects and assist in the instruction of residents, medical students and healthcare staff.

Step 4: Board Certification

While not mandatory, board certification is standard among geriatricians and can help them demonstrate their expertise in the field. Board certification in geriatric medicine is available through the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) by passing a multiple-choice exam. Applicants for certification must be graduates from an approved medical school and licensed physicians who have completed an approved residency program and postsecondary training in geriatrics. Candidates also need to prove that at least half of their practice is in geriatrics and that they've managed a certain number of geriatric cases.

Step 5: Continuing Education

Geriatricians must pursue continuing education to renew their ABPS certifications and maybe even their licenses depending on the state. Continuing education opportunities can be found through healthcare facilities and industry organizations, like the American Medical Association. They can include clinical courses, online modules and self-assessment activities.

In addition to satisfying renewal requirements, continuing education opportunities can help a geriatrician continue to improve his or her skills while staying current on medical advances.

We've covered a lot of information in this video, so let's review. Geriatricians are licensed physicians who have graduated from accredited medical schools and completed residency and fellowship programs. As of September 2016, they earned a median annual salary of $183,725.

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