The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, for nearly two decades the principal professional organization of old-age psychiatrists, provides vital opportunities for career development in geriatric psychiatry. The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) helps medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and clinical practitioners to launch and maintain their careers, whether as clinicians, clinician educators, administrators, or researchers. These opportunities occur not only through the AAGP’s annual meeting (in late winter) and its journal, the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, but also through a network of committees, through lobbying, partnerships with mental health and aging advocacy groups, and the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation (GMHF).
The mission of the AAGP is to promote and enhance research, education, clinical practice, and effective advocacy on behalf of older Americans living with mental illnesses. The membership of the AAGP includes approximately 1,400 psychiatrists and 200 affiliate members from allied clinical and scientific disciplines. Altogether, there are about 2,500 psychiatrists in the United States with added qualifications in geriatric psychiatry. Given the doubling of the numbers of elderly people by 2030 and the large burden of mental illness borne by the nation’s elderly, old-age psychiatry is a long-term growth industry whose public health significance far exceeds the relatively small number of practitioners, teachers, administrators, and researchers in the field. The opportunities for professional development through the AAGP become very critical when viewed within this larger demographic context (1).
The AAGP reaches out to trainees at all levels of development and provides fellowship support (through the generosity of pharmaceutical companies) for attendance at the annual meeting, as well as greatly reduced membership dues. AAGP leaders are very aware of the “pipeline” issues and the need to expose trainees to positive role models early on, in order to influence career choices. Students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows participate in the committees of the AAGP, deliver papers and present abstracts at the annual meeting, and have the opportunity to receive mentoring related to career development issues (both in the world of clinical practice and in academics).
Senior academicians at the AAGP have worked closely for many years with program staff from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to provide workshops focusing on research and other academic career survival skills. These workshops take place both during the annual meeting and at the Summer Research Institute in Geriatric Psychiatry (SRI). Funded through a psychiatric research education grant (R25), SRI convenes annually for a week in late July to teach approximately 25 to 30 postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty how to prepare research career development awards (K series) for submission to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Over the past 10 years, of the approximately 300 graduates of the SRI, close to 80% have remained in full-time academic geriatric psychiatry, and over half have competed successfully for extramural grant support for research. The network of peer support is an invaluable aspect of the program; SRI alumni host a reunion at the AAGP annual meeting. Also there are pre- and post-K award meetings at AAGP to continue the process of peer support, mentoring, career consultation, and problem-solving begun at the SRI. Each year, the AAGP sponsors the member-in-training award for the best unpublished manuscript by a psychiatry resident or postdoctoral fellow.
Service on committees and on the AAGP board of directors is another venue for professional development and networking for early career trainees. Trainees serve on many of the AAGP committees, and there is always a trainee who serves as a member of the board of directors. Many trainees take the annual review course in geriatric psychiatry sponsored by the AAGP in preparation for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) examination to establish added qualifications in geriatric psychiatry. Other practitioners participate in AAGP-sponsored maintenance of certification educational opportunities required by the ABPN. Many AAGP members participate in workshops devoted to clinical practice and reimbursement issues in geriatric psychiatry.
More recently, the AAGP has played an important informal advisory role to the Residency Review Committee (RRC) for psychiatry, as it has deliberated and recrafted the essentials for psychiatry residency, partly in response to the Institute of Medicine’s report on research training during psychiatry residency (2). The AAGP successfully advocated for the concept of allowing geriatric psychiatry content to be introduced earlier in the residency curriculum and for the flexibility to integrate research training earlier on in PGY-4 and -5. If implemented successfully, these reengineered programs may save a year of training time while supporting candidates for an NIH K series award in geriatric mental health.
In summary, the AAGP welcomes medical students, psychiatry residents, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and practitioners to its ranks. AAGP leaders are keen to “grow the field”—the harvest is plentiful—by providing opportunities for mentoring, networking, committee service, exposure to positive role models (clinicians and academicians), practice management strategies, cutting-edge research, and models of educational innovation. From a personal viewpoint, as I have “grown up” in the field, I have come to value all of these relationships—they enrich not only my own professional and scientific life but also those of the students and faculty whom I mentor.