Mentor program matches active seniors with PharmD students
Last year seven College of Pharmacy students were involved in the Interprofessional Senior Mentor Program. This year 18 students signed up. Why is this extracurricular program so popular with pharmacy students? Jeannie Lee, clinical assistant professor, and COP adviser for the program explains, “Our students realize that working with older adults is going to be their life.”
In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the results of a National Medical Care Survey that confirmed that the older the patient, the more complex the care, including an increasing need to manage multiple medications. With the Baby Boomers well into their 50s and 60s, today’s new pharmacists will be the ones answering this challenge.
The Interprofessional Senior Mentor Program (more information at end of story) is designed to help students gain additional education about geriatrics and practical experience with active and engaged older adults. Exposing students to active older adults now helps them to develop more compassion for the older, ailing patients they will encounter when they start working in hospitals and pharmacies, Lee says.
“We hope our students can impact the older patients to regain their health and restore vibrant life, because the students know what that looks like,” says Lee.
Through one-on-one activities and personal mentoring, students in the program meet and work in non-clinical environments with healthy older adults who have volunteered to be mentors. During a guided “getting to know you” session, students perform a life review with the senior mentor and learn patient-centered interviewing techniques.
Another session introduces the students to the aging process. With the aid of a survey, the students learn about changes associated with aging and how to assess their mentors for “function, resilience and quality of life.”
An important aspect of the program is that it exposes the students to interprofessional teamwork. Pharmacy students are placed in interdisciplinary teams with medicine, nursing, public health, social work and research students.
Lee explains, “In the second part of the program, the students work on cases that require inter-professional expertise in order to care for the patient in the case.” Lee believes the practice of pharmacy and health care is moving more in the direction of interprofessional care.
During the 2012academic year, Rajal Patel was a third-year PharmD student in the program.
“After I graduate,” Patel explains, “I know I’m going to be in contact with many older people when I start working. So I thought it would be good to get some practical experience or training that would help me in my future practice.”
However, she was surprised by her experience.
“I thought that we would just sit together and talk about their problems,” Patel recalls. “But it was the exact opposite. The mentors are more active than I ever imagined. Actually they are involved in more activities than me.”
Patel felt that her experience in the program will have practical impact on her work as a pharmacist, and that it has given her a different perspective on seniors.
Kristen Ellis, was another third-year pharmacy student involved with the program.
“I have always been interested in geriatrics,” says Ellis, “but I didn’t have much experience with older adults. The program gave me the opportunity to work with older adults and get their perspectives on how they want their health care to work for them.”
Has working with older adults changed her outlook?
“As a younger person,” Ellis explains, “I had the tendency to throw older people into a stereotypical group. In school, we learn about particular considerations when taking care of certain groups. But we sometimes don’t realize that everyone is different. The program emphasized the point that each person is different and that is how we need to deal with them.”
Story by Larry Hogan Jr.
Cover photo caption: Kristen Ellis with her senior mentor, Shoo Shoo Blum. They are sitting on a bench in Tucson's Reid Park Zoo that was dedicated to the memory of Shoo Shoo's husband, Edwin.
The Arizona Education Center's Interprofessional Senior Mentor Program is housed in the Arizona Center on Aging, a center of the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Contact Lisa O'Neill, MPH, program coordinator, by email or at 520-626-5804, to learn more.