How to become Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Updated on January 9, 2024


With the aging of the baby boomer generation, there is an increasing need for doctors who specialize in caring for older adults. Geriatric medicine provides whole-person care for seniors, focusing on their unique health needs and conditions. Becoming a geriatrician may be very rewarding if you want a medical career improving seniors’ well-being. This overview covers the main steps for becoming a geriatric medicine specialist, including the required education, licensing exams, residency training, and board certification. Read on to learn what’s involved in this in-demand specialty and how to prepare yourself for a career caring for the growing elderly population. The first step is obtaining a medical degree.

What is a Geriatric Medicine Specialist?

A geriatric medicine specialist is a physician with advanced training focused on caring for older adults. As the senior population grows, demand for doctors specializing in their complex health needs increases.

These specialists have expertise in managing common age-related conditions like dementia, osteoporosis, incontinence, balance disorders, depression, and frailty. Their comprehensive knowledge comes from an additional 1-2 years of fellowship after residency, teaching the latest practices in geriatric care.

What do Geriatric Medicine Specialists do?

Geriatric medicine specialists, or geriatricians, focus on older adults’ health and medical care. As the population ages, the need for geriatric specialists continues to grow.

Some of the main duties and responsibilities of a geriatric medicine specialist include:

The field requires strong critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills to optimize every aspect of medical care for the older population. Geriatricians aim to enhance well-being, preserve function and help elderly patients live meaningful, dignified lives. Sources like the American Geriatrics Society and WebMD provide more details on this specialty.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Geriatric Medicine Specialist

To become a geriatric medicine specialist, you must complete medical school and a residency program, followed by a fellowship in geriatrics.

Complete Medical School

The first step is to earn a medical degree (MD or DO) by completing four years of medical school after finishing an undergraduate degree. Learn more about getting into medical school. During medical school, you will take courses in anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. You will also gain hands-on clinical experience during your 3rd and 4th years by rotating through various specialties.

Finish a Primary Residency

After finishing medical school, you must complete a primary residency program, typically in internal medicine or family medicine, which takes 3-4 years. As a resident, you will train under the supervision of experienced doctors, learning diagnostic and treatment skills while caring for patients. This residency guide offers more details on internal medicine residencies.

Complete a Geriatrics Fellowship

The next requirement is to complete a geriatric medicine fellowship, which takes 1-2 additional years beyond a primary residency. This fellowship provides specialized training to prepare you to deal with the unique healthcare needs of elderly patients. As a geriatrics fellow, you will learn about key issues affecting older adults, such as chronic disease management, dementia, falls, mobility issues, medication optimization, and care coordination. The American Geriatrics Society provides a fellowship program directory to help applicants find accredited programs.

Earn Geriatric Medicine Certification

After completing the fellowship, you can become certified in geriatrics by passing an exam administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Family Medicine. This demonstrates your competency and qualifications in this medical specialty. The certification is valid for 10 years, after which you must renew it through an evaluation and certification exam.

Postgraduate Training for Geriatric Medicine Specialist

After completing medical school, postgraduate residency training is the next step to becoming a geriatric medicine specialist. Doctors wishing to enter this field must complete an internal medicine residency, which usually takes three years. During this residency, they will gain broad medical knowledge and clinical skills, providing a strong foundation for specializing.

Physicians pursue additional training through a geriatric medicine fellowship program following the internal medicine residency. These programs, as outlined by the American Geriatrics Society, generally take 1-2 years to complete. During a geriatrics fellowship, doctors receive comprehensive training focused on the unique healthcare needs of elderly patients.

Some key components of geriatric medicine fellowships include:

After finishing their fellowships, geriatric medicine specialists must pass a board certification exam administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Maintaining certification requires ongoing continuing education and re-examination every 10 years.

With postgraduate training complete, geriatricians can then pursue career opportunities in clinical care, academics, research, leadership, or policy related to caring for the elderly. Their specialized expertise is invaluable for supporting this vulnerable patient population.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Becoming a skilled geriatric medicine specialist requires developing a unique set of abilities. Excelling in this field means providing compassionate, patient-centered care for older adults while also effectively managing complex health conditions.

Communication Skills

Having strong communication skills is vital when working with the elderly. Geriatricians must listen attentively to patients and caregivers to fully understand health concerns. They should clearly explain diagnoses, treatment plans, and instructions in a patient manner using layman’s terms. It’s also important to check back with patients to ensure they comprehend recommendations. Finally, geriatrics specialists collaborate with interdisciplinary teams, so being able to confer with other providers is essential.

According to the American Geriatrics Society, developing rapport with older patients improves health outcomes. Using warmth, empathy, and patience enables trust.

Technical Expertise

Geriatricians require extensive medical knowledge to provide top-notch care. They must stay up-to-date on the latest research and clinical guidelines regarding chronic diseases, cognitive disorders, and other common conditions impacting seniors. Excellent diagnostic skills, prescribing practices, and treatment planning are also vital. Broad-based technical expertise coupled with nuanced assessments of individual patient’s needs is the foundation of fruitful geriatric practice.

Proactive Perspective

Unlike other specialties that address acute issues, geriatrics focuses on optimizing well-being and functioning over the long term through preventative care. Geriatric medicine specialists think ahead to reduce the risk of future falls, hospitalizations, disability, and other adverse events. Getting ahead of issues before they escalate into emergencies enables older adults to retain independence longer.

The American Geriatrics Society confirms this proactive approach is what sets geriatricians apart from other providers. Identifying health changes early and making adjustments enhances the quality of life.

Passion for Working with Seniors

Given the complex needs of elderly patients, pursuing geriatrics as a vocation requires a passion for caring for senior citizens. Using a patient-first mentality and desire to improve in later years, geriatricians derive immense satisfaction in helping this demographic thrive. They demonstrate a genuine interest in their patient’s well-being while also advocating for their healthcare rights and needs. With the number of older adults increasing substantially in coming years, having dedication and enthusiasm for working with this population is critical.

Geriatric Medicine Specialist Salary

Geriatric medicine specialists focus on the health and well-being of older adults. They diagnose, treat, and help prevent diseases and disabilities that commonly occur in the elderly population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for physicians and surgeons across all specialties was $213,270 as of May 2020. However, salaries can vary considerably based on your years of experience, location, employer type, and other factors.

Years of ExperienceAverage Salary
0-5 years$200,000
6-10 years$225,000
11-15 years$250,000
16-20 years$275,000
21 years and up$300,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

With the growing senior population, demand rises for geriatricians, creating excellent job prospects:

Advancement Options

Overall, the field provides fulfilling work plus opportunities to take on senior-level roles and shape elder care policies and practices.


Pursuing a career as a geriatric specialist takes immense commitment, requiring a bachelor’s degree, medical school, residency, fellowship, and passing board certification exams. However, with compassion for the elderly and strong interpersonal skills, it offers a meaningful path to improving older adults’ quality of life through coordinated, whole-person care. As the senior population surges, demand for specialized expertise managing complex age-related conditions and supporting wellbeing rises. Geriatricians find deep fulfillment in using their comprehensive knowledge to treat multiple chronic diseases, assess cognitive health, discuss care goals, and help patients maintain cherished independence in their later years. With dedication and drive, ambitious professionals can achieve this vital calling, guiding the growing number of aging individuals to healthier, more enriched lives.

Additional Resources


What is a geriatric medicine specialist?
A geriatric medicine specialist is a physician who has completed additional training and certification to provide specialized care to older adults. They are experts in managing complex medical conditions and helping seniors maintain maximum health and independence as they age.

What kind of education and training is required to become a geriatric medicine specialist?
Becoming a geriatric medicine specialist requires first completing medical school and obtaining an MD or DO degree. After graduating, physicians must then complete a primary residency, usually in internal medicine or family medicine. Following the primary residency, an additional one or two years of fellowship training in geriatrics is required. During this specialized training, physicians gain expertise in areas such as dementia, falls and mobility issues, medication management, and care coordination for older patients.

What is the average salary for a geriatric medicine specialist?
According to Payscale, geriatric medicine specialists earn an average salary of $234,653 per year. Those working in academic medicine or administration may earn less, with salaries closer to $200,000 annually. Geriatricians in private practice tend to fall on the higher end of the pay scale.

What professional certification is available in this field?
Physicians who complete a geriatrics fellowship program can become board-certified in Geriatric Medicine by passing an exam administered by either the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) or the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine (AOBIM), depending on their training. This certification demonstrates advanced expertise in senior care.

What does the job outlook look like for geriatric medicine specialists?
The demand for geriatric medicine specialists is expected to surge dramatically in the coming years due to the rapid growth of the senior population. It’s estimated that by 2030, there will only be one geriatrician for every 14,200 seniors 75 years and older. Thus, those entering this specialty should have their choice of job opportunities nationwide.