Geriatrics Workforce Training Must Be Preserved, GSA Member Tells Senate

For Immediate Release
May 22, 2018

Contact: Todd Kluss
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Speaking today at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, University of Washington professor Elizabeth A. Phelan, MD, MS, urged lawmakers to continue their support for the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) — the only U.S. government program dedicated to preparing primary care providers to care for older adults.

Phelan is a member of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA). At the University of Washington, she is an associate professor of medicine, gerontology, and geriatric medicine, and adjunct associate professor of health services in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health; founding director of the UW Medicine Fall Prevention Clinic; and director of the Northwest Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Center, one of 44 federally funded GWEP awardees nationally.

Phelan was joined by two other experts at the hearing, which was titled “The Health Care Workforce: Addressing Shortages and Improving Care.” She told the committee that most health care providers “want to do the right thing” for their patients, but many are not familiar with treatments that optimally meet the needs of older adults.

“That is because geriatrics … has not been part of the training of most health professionals in practice today,” Phelan said in her testimony. “And even those in current training for health professions careers usually still get to the end of their training and never receive any formal exposure to geriatrics. With GWEP funding, we have the opportunity to change that.”

Administered by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, GWEPs focus on enhancing the ability of America’s primary care workforce to provide high-quality care for older adults.

“We are trying to break down silos of care between clinic and community, because care that is tuned into the resources that the community can bring to bear can optimize the health of an older adult and keep him/her living in the community — and avoid the unnecessary costs of hospitalizations and long-term care that so often otherwise results,” Phelan said. “And we are finding that even minimal exposure to geriatrics principles of care makes a difference in trainee knowledge and confidence to bring area agency on aging resources to bear on the care of their older patients.”

Phelan added that because most older adults will continue to receive primary care from frontline providers in the fields of family medicine and general internal medicine and from nurse practitioners — not geriatricians — the country must support the geriatrics training of providers in those disciplines to make good care a reality.

“We have a long way to go to realize this imperative,” Phelan said. “Doing the right thing does have a large impact on how well an older adult lives and how long he/she stays living in the community. For this reason, I urge the entire committee to continue to support the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program.”


The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational unit, the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education.