The increase in the older adult population, the exponential growth of knowledge about aging, the diversity that exists between and among older adults and the rapid changes in the delivery of health care challenge medical educators to add new content to an increasingly crowded curriculum. Communication and collaboration between and among faculty at the College of Medicine – Phoenix is making it possible to creatively insert important aging content into an innovative new curriculum without adding additional time.
Curricular topics related to the process of aging and the medical care of older adults are integrated longitudinally throughout all relevant components of the curriculum over the entire four years of medical school. Beginning with lectures in blocks, as well as guided clinical experiences during the first and second years, and continuing with clerkships and electives during the third and fourth years, students gain an understanding of aging from a life-course perspective, with an emphasis on healthy aging. The (AAMC) guidelines for geriatric medical education, as well as recommendations from the American Geriatrics Society, are incorporated into the curriculum.
Students gain an understanding of the multidimensional changes that older adults experience. In addition, they study the special characteristics of illness, disability and disease, as well as the special approaches needed for the provision of excellence in geriatric care. Interdisciplinary activities and a team approach are stressed, and attention to the issues of family caregivers is highlighted.
There are also opportunities for students to work with older adults in a variety of living situations and states of health, ranging from home to skilled nursing facilities. Efforts directed toward, “getting to know the person or the patient” provide opportunities to communicate with older persons in a non-clinical environment. The application of preventive approaches at any age is emphasized. Students have an opportunity to join the Geriatric Interest Group and participate in a number of activities, including the chance to provide presentations on health issues to older adults in the community.
Communication and collaboration occurs between, and among, all faculty whose curricular responsibilities touch on the implications for the care of older adult patients. This provides an opportunity for the development of an integrated and seamless system that assures relevant educational experiences. And as always, the art of the science of geriatric medicine is stressed.
Fran Roberts, RN, PhD, FAAN