Syracuse University Magazine

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Evelyn Granieri ’78

Finding Joy in Geriatric Care

Evelyn Granieri arrived on the Syracuse University campus in 1970, a biology and chemistry major, with dreams of becoming a physician. She eventually realized the dream—and today loves her work as professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Aging at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and attending physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital. “I took a very circuitous route,” she says. “I give so much credit to Syracuse and the people who stuck with me.”

As a sophomore, Granieri had to leave school due to illness. Once her health was stable, she returned, taking a full load of classes and making up her incompletes. She was just back on her feet when her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Granieri went home to care for her. After her mother’s death, she stayed on to help her father for a year. By this time, her younger sister had caught up in school to Granieri, and she realized that medical school for both at the same time would not be financially feasible.

She needed a new plan and credits Syracuse’s advisors with helping her navigate her journey down a new path. “I can’t imagine a school that would have been as good or accommodating to me,” she recalls. “They allowed me to change direction, but they still pointed me in the right way. I have always been incredibly grateful.” That path led Granieri to major in clinical nutrition in the College for Human Development (now Falk College). “Clinical nutrition was something I really liked,” she says. “I thought it would be complementary and satisfying.” 

Granieri began her career as a dietitian at Northwestern University Medical Center, her dream to be a doctor still beckoning. After working a few years, she enrolled in medical school there and during her residency in internal medicine discovered her true passion, geriatric medicine. “I developed a mission to take care of old people,” she says. In the beginning, the call included plain necessity. “It seemed nobody else wanted to do it,” she says.

Granieri became the first fellow and geriatrics-trained faculty member at Northwestern. She went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a master’s degree in public health and directed geriatric education at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. During that time, she obtained a master’s degree in medical education from the University of Southern California. She has been at Columbia since 2006, and she still teaches, cares for vulnerable and frail older adults, and makes house calls.

She has found the career challenging and rewarding. She says geriatric care is desperately needed in the United States today, with the oldest Baby Boomers now over 70, and an increasing number of people living well into their 90s. “There are more and more older people, fewer people who want to go into geriatrics, and thus, fewer who can teach younger people in medical training how to truly provide thoughtful and compassionate care,” she says. Young physicians can make more money in other medical disciplines, or specializing in a narrow field. She explains the conundrum of Medicare reimbursement, where health care workers aren’t paid satisfactorily to sit with older patients, determine their goals, address multiple medical and psychosocial issues, and work with family. 

“I love the care of older adults,” Granieri says. “It is a privilege to shepherd people through the last years of their lives.” When she is teaching medical trainees, she focuses on the quiet satisfaction of geriatric care. “I tell them about the joy in this work.” —Kathleen Curtis