Number of physicians rising, but geriatrics continues to struggle

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Although the number of medical students is skyrocketing, healthcare officials say they are concerned whether enough future physicians will choose geriatrics or primary care. 

There will be almost 20,0000 first-year medical students starting classes this fall, up from roughly 16,500 in 2002, the Association of American Medical Colleges said Thursday. But while the median salary range for geriatricians is $187,602, the salary for cardiac and thoracic surgeons is $533,084, according to the American Medical Group Association. Those salaries are even higher for neurological or orthopedic surgeons, and make it difficult to convince physicians to choose lower-paying fields, analysts say. Additionally, the number of students who become specialists is expected to worsen the problem of rising healthcare costs, The Fiscal Times reported.

The relatively few number of geriatricians has become an increasing problem in long-term care. There is hope, however, that accountable care organizations and other healthcare reform initiatives will create more opportunities and better pay for primary care physicians, according to the Times. There are also indications that more specialists do not help the elderly, as a survey by Dartmouth University and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services showed that Medicare beneficiaries who live in areas with more physicians per capita do not have better healthcare than those with less access to physicians.