The university has added geriatrics into the core clinical rotation for the program.
At the University of Arkansas Medical Science (UAMS), the College of Health Professions has begun incorporating geriatrics, previously an elective, into the core clinical rotation for its physician assistant program to foster more interest.
The move is in anticipation that 20% of the nation's population will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and potentially be in need of some type of aging service. As the workforce shortage persists, providers are struggling to find and hire staff, with the demand for these services already outweighing the supply.
In addition to providers considering different strategies to attract talent, educational institutions, such as UAMS, are helping their efforts by getting students interested in geriatrics and eldercare before they enter the job market.
"For our program, it's less common for students to come in being interested in working with older adults," Edward Williams, director of the physician assistant program, said. "Most often students come in wanting to be physical therapists, to work with sports orthopedic populations, and they've tended to become interested in geriatrics when they go through their clinicals."
The department's faculty have different specialties they practiced in, including geriatrics, before joining the university, William said, and bringing characteristics from their practice to their teaching benefits the students.
"They see it in our past experiences as professionals, and I think that if we are expecting our students to have an affinity for or enjoy something, to see the importance of things like this with other disciplines; it may not be as exciting when they first come in … but we have to make sure they understand why it's such a key and important thing."
Dr. Jennifer Vincenzo, an associate professor within the department, also attributes the lack of initial interest to ageism and misunderstandings about the physical capabilities of older adults as they age.
Vincenzo recently received a million-dollar implementation science grant from the National Institute on Aging via the National Institutes of Health to research fall risks in older adults.
In addition to offering a research elective for students interested in helping with her research, she also serves on the board of the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy and encourages students to get involved to further their interest in geriatrics.
"If the students are [doing] clinicals, they're only seeing older adults who are having difficulty medically or physically, so they don't see the older adults who are independent, playing tennis, out on the river at 80-85 years old," she explained.
"It's trying to show them that they could potentially also work with people to continue to live a good quality of life and help them do that as they age."
“It's trying to show them that they could potentially also work with people to continue to live a good quality of life and help them do that as they age.”
Dr. Jennifer Vincenzo
Educational institutions like UAMS are increasing efforts to get students interested in working with older populations.
While students may not have an initial interest in working with older adults, faculty have seen their perspectives shift as they have opportunities to work with them.