June 16, 2006 — The University of Utah School of Medicine has been awarded a $2 million grant to help address one of the most urgent needs in U.S. health care: competent medical treatment for the nation’s growing elderly population.
Mark A. Supiano, M.D., professor and chief of geriatrics and executive director of the U of U Center on Aging, is principal investigator for the grant-“Comprehensive Program to Strengthen Physicians” Training in Geriatrics”-from the Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
Supiano, who also directs the Department of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System’s Geriatric, Research, and Education Center, and 45 U of U faculty and staff members plan to develop a curriculum that provides every U medical school student training in geriatric medicine. By the time they graduate, each student will possess the clinical skills to evaluate their older patients’ functional status and screen for geriatric conditions often missed in their routine care. Each student’s clinical progress will be assessed and tracked by a Web-based computer program.
“We’re going to document that students are competent in geriatric skills,” Supiano says.
Geriatric medicine is not a required part of most U.S. medical schools’ curricula. The University is one of 10 leading academic medical centers awarded a Reynolds Foundation grant, which provides $500,000 annually over four years. It is the only program of its kind in the Intermountain region.
“We will never be able to train enough geriatricians to meet the coming needs,” Supiano says. “But we can teach new doctors, within the context of their own specialties, to competently treat older patients. This will have an enormous impact on people in the Intermountain region.”
People 65 and older are considered geriatric patients, but as the average life expectancy continues to increase, doctors are seeing more people 85 and older. The University’s emerging strength in the field of geriatrics played an important role in receiving the grant, according to Supiano.
The U of U Center on Aging includes 55 faculty members conducting research, educating health-care professionals, and providing health care for people age 65 and older-and the program is growing. Faculty from numerous U of U departments, schools, and colleges are working in aging, including the Colleges of Nursing, Health, Pharmacy, Social Work, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the School of Medicine.
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada, it is one of the largest private foundations in the country.
The grant also will have a major impact on practicing physicians. Primary care providers at University Health Care’s community clinics, the VA health-care system, and Intermountain Health-all leaders in the use of electronic medical records-will receive training to improve the care for elderly patients in their practices.
Utah’s need for geriatric physicians will outpace most of the country’s in the coming years.
While the state is widely known for having the nation’s youngest population, it also ranks seventh in people age 85 and older. It is predicted that 20 years from now Utah will have the country’s fastest growth rate for people age 65 and older.
More information on the U of U Center on Aging and this grant is available at www.aging.utah.edu.