Pharmacy Students Work with Elders in SOAR Program

Dr. Spencer, left, reviews Elders' charts with Thy Phi, a pharmD student in Tucson.

The University of Arizona's 2018 Student and Older Adult Relationship (SOAR) program recently launched its third year at St. Luke's Home, holistic, assisted-living community. The program brings first year College of Pharmacy PharmD students to St. Luke's to work directly with the Elders.

Coordinated by Jenene Spencer, PharmD, in Tucson and Sandi Thoi, PharmD, in Phoenix, the program provides students opportunities to practice communication and interviewing skills, record health histories, reconcile medication records, screen for inappropriate medication use and assess mental health and nutritional needs.

St. Luke’s is just one of six sites in Phoenix and Tucson where students practice their skills with older residents. Other sites include The Fountains at La Cholla, Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging, Devon Gables Health Care, La Siena Senior Living Community and Friendship Village Tempe, some of which have been a part of the SOAR program for nine years.

Dr. Spencer praised the innovation of SOAR in the way it combines didactic and experiential opportunities for the students.

"We cannot say enough about how valuable it is for our students to have hands-on experience with Elders," Spencer said. "Many of our students do not have grandparents or other older adults in their lives. The full hour that students have to spend with each Elder each week with SOAR is a lot more time than most health care professionals spend with patients. In addition to that, they are practicing their communication and interviewing skills in a safe, non-rushed environment.”

Students receive foundations in aging and perspectives from interprofessional geriatrics professionals during class coordinated by College of Pharmacy faculty member Jeannie Lee, PharmD, with small-group practice using clinical tools of geriatric assessment.  The aging principles learned and tools used in class are directly applied during the weekly SOAR sessions where two to three students are paired with two Elders.

Students learn not only about medications and diseases, but they also get a history lesson while listening to the Elders’ stories about their lives and living through wars and different decades. Both the students and the Elders open up and develop meaningful relationships and, most importantly, they learn from each other.

St. Luke’s Home CEO L'Don Sawyer noted the benefits SOAR provides for the Elders.

“The Elders enjoy the energy of the students and have the opportunity to provide meaningful and gentle feedback about their care. They feel useful, needed and valued and also learn about self-care. The Elders always look forward to sharing gains they have made at the next visit."


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