Last Sunday's article ("An ageing population, without the doctors to match") reported that currently, 97 per cent of medical students in the United States do not take a single course in geriatrics and that the number of geriatricians in the US is shrinking, despite Americans aged 65 years or older being the fastest-growing age group.
While these statistics are disconcerting, they do not reflect Singapore's situation.
In the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, which currently trains two-thirds of doctors locally, all 300 medical students admitted each year are exposed to geriatrics training from the second to the fifth year.
Since 2008, curriculum time devoted to geriatric medicine teaching has quadrupled from two weeks to eight weeks, starting with a Foundations in Geriatric Medicine module in the second year, followed by a longitudinal geriatrics track from the third to the fifth year, interspersed within various clinical postings. These are taught in collaboration with teachers from public health, family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery and psychiatry.
A paper recently published in the Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society demonstrated that the NUS Medicine geriatrics curriculum improved both attitudes towards older people and knowledge in geriatric medicine of its medical students ("Medical students get to know the needs of elderly patients"; May 13).
Our Singapore Medical Council's annual reports show that the number of geriatricians in Singapore almost quadrupled, from 22 in 2001 to 80 last year, and is projected to continue increasing in tandem with our ageing population.
Unlike the US, Singapore's strategy to prepare the physician workforce to care for our ageing population is not dependent on training sufficient geriatricians alone, but also training every future doctor (regardless of future speciality) in geriatric medicine during medical school, because every doctor (with the exception of, perhaps, paediatricians) will see increasing numbers of elderly patients as part of their practice.
Singapore's relative success in matching the supply of doctors with our ageing population is attributable to the foresight of geriatrics education pioneers and our ministries of Health and Education.
Gerald Koh (Dr)
Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health
National University of Singapore (NUS)
Reshma Merchant (Dr)
Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS