Elder care as "frustrating" and "boring": understanding the persistence of negative attitudes toward older patients among physicians-in-training

J Aging Stud. 2012 Dec;26(4):476-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2012.06.007. Epub 2012 Jul 17.


Objectives: This study explores the attitudes of physicians-in-training toward older patients. Specifically, we examine why, despite increasing exposure to geriatrics in medical school curricula, medical students and residents continue to have negative attitudes toward caring for older patients.

Methods: This study used ethnography, a technique used by anthropologists that includes participant-observation, semi-structured interviews, and facilitated group discussions. Research was conducted at two tertiary-care academic hospitals in urban Northern California, and focused on eliciting the opinions, beliefs, and practices of physicians-in-training toward geriatrics.

Results: We found that the majority of physicians-in-training in this study expressed a mix of positive and negative views about caring for older patients. We argue that physicians-in-trainings' attitudes toward older patients are shaped by a number of heterogeneous and frequently conflicting factors, including both the formal and so-called "hidden" curricula in medical education, institutional demands on physicians to encourage speed and efficiency of care, and portrayals of the process of aging as simultaneously as a "problem" of inevitable biological decay and an opportunity for medical intervention.

Discussion: Efforts to educate medical students and residents about appropriate geriatric care tend to reproduce the paradoxes and uncertainties surrounding aging in biomedicine. These ambiguities contribute to the tendency of physicians-in-training to develop moralizing attitudes about older patients and other patient groups labeled "frustrating" or "boring".

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ageism / psychology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Boredom*
  • Clinical Clerkship
  • Communication
  • Comorbidity
  • Curriculum
  • Family Practice / education
  • Feedback
  • Frustration*
  • Geriatrics / education*
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Socialization
  • Stereotyping
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching Rounds
  • United States