Get access

The Unknown Profession: A Geriatrician


Address correspondence to Peter M. Abadir, MD, Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center, Room 1A.33, 5501 Hopkins Bayview Circle, Baltimore, MD 21224. E-mail:


The term “plastic surgeon” is oddly uninformative, although it seems likely that most people know what plastic surgeons do. How well can a sample of individuals encountered on the street describe what geriatricians do? To answer this question, we strolled through downtown Baltimore's Inner Harbor, armed with a video camera and picture identification cards to ask the following question: “What is a geriatrician?” Two of us (PA, JY), from the Johns Hopkins Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, surveyed a convenience sample of people aged 18–80. To further enhance this survey, a video of the interviews was produced (available in online version of article). We entered this exercise having recently joined the ranks of geriatricians—prepared to improve the health and quality of care of our elderly patients. Our naive excitement at entering this noble specialty was trampled by the reality that virtually no one we interviewed knew what a geriatrician was. Answers like, “somebody who works for Ben and Jerry's ice cream” were amusing but at the same time typical and sobering. This simple survey reveals a distressing gap in the public's knowledge of the field of geriatrics and the need for better understanding of its importance to public health and individual health. After all, if people do not know what a geriatrician is, how can they support the growth of geriatrics or seek care from us?