A fellowship program being developed at Touro University Nevada aims to put a dent in the doctor shortage locally while also providing more skillful care to Southern Nevada’s senior population.
The school’s geriatrics fellowship program will fill a critical gap as the only such program in Southern Nevada when it launches in July, said Dr. John J. Dougherty, dean of Touro’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“There’s a limited number of specialists in Nevada who are trained to take care of (seniors’) special needs,” Dougherty said.
The one-year-program, which is recruiting two fellows this year but will grow to four positions in 2018, was approved about two years ago through a national governing medical board.
Then last fall, Touro was awarded $1.2 million by the governor’s office to get the program off the ground.
The funding was a portion of the $10 million in graduate medical education funding set aside in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget for “attracting, educating and retaining” qualified new doctors in Nevada, the governor said in a statement in late October. That $10 million is expected to create 304 new graduate medical education positions across Nevada by late 2020.
Statistics suggest that people who complete their graduate medical education in Nevada are more likely to stay and practice here, which is one of the key reasons for the push to increase local residencies and fellowships.
But even with the creation of all of those residencies and fellowships, Nevada’s health care needs will remain great, Dougherty said.
“We would not even begin to fill the need that we’re beginning to see in Southern Nevada,” he said.
Though the university has multiple established fellowships including in palliative care and gastroenterology, a geriatrics fellowship is crucial for Southern Nevada, as the region has a burgeoning senior population and a well-publicized shortage in graduate medical education slots, he added.
“The day they come until the day they graduate, they’re going to be busy, busy, busy,” Dougherty said of the university’s geriatrics fellows.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Nevada experienced a 2.6 percentage point increase in senior population between 2010 and 2015 — from 12 percent of the overall population to 14.6 percent.
A 2015 report from UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research further predicts at least three decades of growth in Nevada’s senior population.
For example, the report predicts the number of those ages 65 and older will increase from about 300,000 in 2015 to 454,000 in 2025, or 51 percent. That’s compared with an overall population increase of 17 percent and an increase of just 12 percent for those ages 25-64.
Though predicting population decades out is an inexact science, the state should expect a booming senior population, CBER Director Dr. Stephen Miller said.
“That should be a growing segment because of the baby boomers retiring,” he said, adding that Southern Nevada tends to draw retirees due to its sunny climate and lower housing costs.
And more seniors means the state needs more doctors and medical personnel to treat them, AARP Nevada spokesman Scott Gulbransen said.
Touro University will partner on the geriatric fellowship program with the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System and Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
“More than 45 percent of our veteran patient population is over the age of 65,” said local veterans health system Associate Chief of Staff for Education Dr. Delva Deauna-Limayo in a statement. “This fellowship allows us to better address their specific needs, further enhance the quality of their care and improve their access to our services.”
Dr. Dylan Wint, who leads the professional education programs at the Ruvo Center, said in a statement that his facility looks forward to collaborating with Touro.
“Geriatric medicine is a crucial part of the medical landscape in Southern Nevada,” Wint said. “Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is happy to lend our expertise and experience in neurodegenerative conditions, which disproportionately afflict the geriatric population.”
To Dr. Aurelio Muyot, a geriatrician and assistant professor at Touro and program coordinator for the fellowship, said geriatrics is about communication, caring for your patients and multitasking.
“Doing a fellowship in geriatrics will enhance anyone’s ability to care for an aging and vulnerable population,” he said.
Muyot said he hopes the program will attract family and internal medicine residents who enjoy working with seniors, and he thinks it’ll bolster the state’s physician population by attracting qualified, eager candidates who care as much as he does.
“To be able to help someone not only deal with their medical condition but … be able to age successfully — those are the things that drive me,” he said.
Touro, which has geriatrics fellowship faculty in place, is now working to ensure proper approvals for the program are received to build interest in it.
The university is also completing infrastructure upgrades.
Dougherty said one of his aims for the program is that it will reduce the likelihood locals will look out of town for health care, invoking that old joke about McCarran International Airport being the best place in town to go for quality treatment.
“Being able to add that subspecialty training is going to be an important piece of the puzzle,” he said.