There are not a lot of geriatricians in the United States and their numbers dwindle each year because medical students believe the specialty is depressing, one survey tells us, and it pays a lot less than other fields of medicine.
”A key issue in the U.S., [Desmond O'Neill] emphasized,” reported the Irish Times in January, “is the relative scarcity of geriatric health professionals like him. That this country has so few geriatricians here compared to other industrialized nations is a serious flaw in the system, he believes.
“O’Neill used the hypothetical of example of an emergency room with two options for the older patient: behind Door A is a geriatrician and behind Door B, the general medical service.
“'You reduce the chances of death or going into a nursing home by 25 percent by going into the geriatrician,' O’Neill said, adding, 'It can happen and it can change [in the U.S.]. The Canadians have changed direction.'”
Desmond O'Neill is a Dublin geriatrician who is also one of world’s leading researchers in his field. Last year, he became the first European honored by the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) with its Samuel T. Freeman Award, given to a “prominent physician in the field of aging - both in research and practice.”
Pay for geriatricians in Australia, for example, is much higher than in the U.S., O'Neill says, where fees fall well below those for physicians in high-tech specialities. Ireland falls somewhere in the middle.
Nevertheless, he detects a coming “seismic shift” in attitudes toward ageing within medicine and society at large. If that is true, I certainly hope Dr. O'Neill's recognition in the United States will be an inspiration to those who run our healthcare system.
“'People used to talk about ‘successful aging.’ It means that if you didn’t reach the criteria of successful aging, you’d failed,” said O’Neill.
“Henri Matisse did not successfully age in a physical sense. After decades painting standing up, he was forced to adjust his style radically sitting down. 'Through his disability, he grew and changed and produced something new,' O’Neill said.
“So what we’re actually talking about is ‘optimal aging’ that understands the existential hits that we’re going to take in terms of disability and creates a system that frees you from unnecessary constriction by that disability,' O’Neill said.”
The growing movement to create age-friendly cities will help bring this about. O'Neill
Other changes coming, says O'Neill, involve a reversal of the long-held simplistic belief that ageing is only about loss and decline. Whew! Refusing to believe that, is the reason I started this blog and it's great to have a credentialed professional saying these things. Take a listen:
“'We’ve got to recognize growth in later life. And also not only recognize growth, but also the extraordinary abilities of people in later life to cope with the existential problems they have.'
“O’Neill noted, “Older drivers have the highest levels of illnesses that might affect driving, yet they’re the safest group of drivers on the road. So, their adaptive abilities, their mastery of how they engage with their environment, is brilliant.'
“There is now a fascinating body of literature on the older worker, according to the Dublin physician.
“'If you have come down in the Hudson and survive, do you want an almost 60-year-old with all his life experience or do you want a 25-year-old?' O’Neill said, alluding to Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger’s successful navigation of Flight 1549 on Jan. 15, 2009.
“O’Neill, a frequent writer for the Irish Times and British Medical Journal, reported that research has shown older workers take less time off and are more productive than younger colleagues in many jobs.
“'Older roofers, for example, seem to spend a little bit more time per tile, but actually get the job done faster because they know the shape of it,' he said.
“Older hotel receptionists, he said, 'take a bit long longer on the phone call, but they get more second reservations.'”
In our 21st century world where it is widely believed that speed is everything, those last two items are of particular importance. There are still a few of us alive who understand the payoff in the fable about the tortoise and the hare.
I'll have more to tell you about Dr. O'Neill when I've finished reading his book, Ageing and Caring: A Guide for Later Life. Meanwhile you can read a bit more at The Irish Echo story..
We need a lot more geriatricians like Desmond O'Neill.