Convincing medical students to go into geriatrics is a tough sell, which Joseph Ouslander, M.D., knows better than anyone.
“It’s almost a Catch-22 in that there aren’t enough good role models. Number two, geriatrics isn’t valued in academic settings, unless you’ve taken care of the dean’s parents,” he notes wryly.
But Ouslander is cautiously optimistic, noting that healthcare reform and changes in reimbursement offer those who want to take care of older patients “a golden opportunity to get valued and rewarded.”
The geriatrician, on the staff at Boca Raton Community Hospital, is perhaps best known for creating the Interventions to Reduce Acute Care Transfers (INTERACT) program that helps nurses and aides in nursing homes identify clinical problems and manage them effectively in order to reduce hospitalizations. The senior associate dean for geriatric programs and professor at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, also is well-known for his work on geriatric incontinence.
He says he was moved in medical school by a New England Journal of Medicine article describing the need for geriatricians.
“This was an opportunity to go into a new area,” he recalls. Part of the appeal was “that geriatrics is a team sport.”
“My experience in high school, especially with wresting and football, helped instill that in me,” he says. A New Jersey native, he remembers how in his first year in high school, his geometry teacher looked at him and said, “You’re going out for wrestling.”
“I lost 30 pounds freshman year. You competed as an individual and a team,” he remembers. “[It] changed my life.”
That partnership approach has allowed Ouslander to have a good relationship with academics and policy makers, including Alice Bonner, Ph.D., RN, director of the division of nursing homes at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
While she says he’s seen as having “tremendous gravitas,” in the field, she said he also shows his warmth by “always opening up his home, and he’ll cook dinner for everyone.”
“We tease him sometimes that even though he has an M.D., he’s really a nurse deep down,” Bonner says. “He puts people first. He loves to teach. When he speaks, people really listen.”
Being a geriatrician has been a gift personally, as Ouslander says he was able to oversee end-of-life care when his sister and father became terminally ill. Today, his mother is recovering from a stroke in Florida with him and his wife, Lynn. The couple has five cats, a dog, and two adult children, Matt and Sabrina.
Ouslander, 60, maintains a rigorous schedule, arising daily at 5:30 a.m. to exercise. He says he plans to work for at least another decade. And he’ll continue to do what he’s most proud of — training.
“Many [of my students] are very successful,” he says. “I try to be kind and nice to people and help them to succeed.”
Spoken like a true role model.
Finishes bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University
Completes medical degree at Case Western Reserve University
Returns to Johns Hopkins as assistant professor, Division of Geriatric Medicine, Francis Scott Key Medical Center
Becomes a professor of medicine at UCLA School of Medicine
Joins Emory University as the director of the Center for Health in Aging, director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology; chief medical officer at the Wesley Woods Center
Becomes executive editor of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society; chairman of the board of directors at AGS
Bestowed the American Geriatrics Society Nascher/Manning Award