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Senior mentor program

Pairing students with active seniors brings new perspectives
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Second-year DPT student Rie Tomida and her senior mentor Lucy Larrousse met for their last official session in June. However, the pair plan to continue meeting in the coming year.

For a year, second-year DPT student Rie Tomida carved time out of her busy schedule to meet with Lucy Larrousse, a 70-year-old retired school teacher, at least once a month. She was not observing or helping with any type of clinical care for Larrousse. Rather, the pair typically had lunch, chatted and perhaps ran a few errands.

Tomida was taking part in the Emory Senior Mentor Program. Created in 2011, the program pairs medical, nursing and physician assistant students with healthy, active seniors with the goal of helping the students learn how to most effectively interact with this population. Last year the program expanded to include first-year DPT students under the guidance of Associate Professor Sarah Blanton, DPT, NCS, who has made participation in the program a requirement for the geriatric section of the Growth Processes class.

"When you are going through training, you mainly see very frail seniors in institutional settings – the hospital, the nursing home," says Jessica Wilson, program coordinator. "But that’s not realistic. When you finish your training, many, if not most, of your patients will be over 65, but they’ll be active and vibrant. Students don’t get any training with that population. We hope to give students a better understanding of the issues facing the seniors they will treat."

Each month the students meet with their senior mentors to discuss a specific topic. Talking points include nutrition, values, friendship circles and "bucket lists." They were asked to accompany their senior on a medical visit to see what it’s like for an older person to access medical care – including finding transportation to the doctor’s office, navigating the waiting room and paying for care.

Like most of the students, Wallace was surprised by how active his mentor was. "Betsy (Allen) is very involved with her church," says Wallace. "She does volunteer work, exercises, goes out to dinner with friends. Her schedule is definitely busier than mine."

A secondary goal of the program is to foster interprofessional collaboration. In addition to meeting with their mentors once a month, the students from the various schools come together to talk about their experiences. "The students are trained in silos, but when they get out, they are expected to work as part of a multidisciplinary team," says Wilson. "This is a way for students to hear perspectives from other disciplines and get to know each other."

Jenny Webeler, second-year DPT student, found this aspect particularly helpful. "We normally don’t get the opportunity to interact with students in other disciplines," says Webeler. "It was really nice to be able to make connections with students in other programs and learn about what they are doing and how they see things."

A perhaps unintended result of the program was a few enduring friendships. Although the program has officially ended, Tomida and Larrousse plan to keep meeting. Larrousse wants to introduce Tomida to more Columbian restaurants and groceries around town, and Tomida wants to keep practicing her Spanish.

Related Resources

Video: "Emory Senior Mentorship Program"

Emory Senior Mentor Program

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