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The first great physician was Hippocrates, a Greek who lived almost 2,500 years ago. He developed theories about the practice of medicine and the anatomy of the human body, but Hippocrates is remembered today for a set of medical ethics that continues to influence medical practice. The oath that he administered to his disciples is still administered to physicians about to start practice. His 87 treatises on medicine, known as the Hippocratic Collection, are believed to be the first authoritative record of early medical theory and practice. Hippocratic physicians believed in the theory that health was maintained by a proper balance of four "humors" in the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.

Since the time of ancient Greece, as you might imagine, there have been many advances in the medical field: the development of organized clinical instruction, vaccinations, sterilization procedures, and instruments such as the stethoscope, to name a few. In addition to these advances, the medical profession also saw the development of specialists, doctors who concentrate their work in specific areas such as surgery, psychiatry, or internal medicine. Geriatricians specialize in working with the elderly. The term geriatrics comes from the Greek terms, geras, meaning old age, and iatrikos, meaning physician.

Geriatrics has only fairly recently become a popular, needed, and recognized specialty. Formal training in the field is relatively new. One reason for the development of this occupation is that people are now living longer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 3 million Americans age 65 or over living in 1900, but by 2000 this segment of the population had grown to about 35 million. Nearly 45 million people were age 65 or older as of July 1, 2013. This large (and growing) number of older people has created a demand for specialized services. Geriatricians are doctors who fulfill this demand. As our elderly population continues to grow—the bureau predicts approximately 98.2 million people to be age 65 or over by 2060—geriatricians are faced with unique medical and ethical challenges in the treatment of their patients.

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