In response to the nation’s growing demand for geriatric care, CWRU’s School of Medicine and the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing  recently launched Aging in Place, a pilot program developed with JFSA Cleveland that provides first-year students (medical, master’s-level nursing, and physician assistant) direct experience working with older adults.  A total of 24 students are taking part in the pilot, which is funded in part by a grant from the Abington Foundation. Twice monthly, eight teams of three students (medical, nursing, physician assistant) will be accompanied to clients’ homes by JFSA social workers.

A small planning project initiated and developed by JFSA Board Member David Rosenberg, MD and Susan Wentz, MD, MS director of the Area Health Education Center at CWRU, took place this past summer with a group of three students. The participants (pictured above)—Stephen Smilowitz (medicine), Monica Tenjarla (physician assistant) and Rebecca Arko (nursing)—were very enthusiastic about their experience. “Aging in Place [enables us to] meet patients where they are most comfortable, witness their daily trials and triumphs, and cultivate practical skills. [It] offers students the opportunity to witness for themselves that active and resilient older adults are not an exception to the rule, but a normal outcome. Early student exposure to this experience will inevitably change attitudes,” according to the three students.

In Aging in Place, students learn to conduct and document medical histories, strengthen presentation skills, and synthesize the often complex medical and social issues affecting older clients. They also gain insights by encountering clients in natural, non-clinical settings—directly observing physical conditions and social determinants of health.

“There is so much knowledge that our students must learn and it continues to grow in density,” says Dr. Wentz. “But that’s not enough. Sometimes, the demands of training mute the human dimensions of care. With Aging in Place, we hope to nourish students’ humanity from the early stages of their education.”

Dr. Rosenberg views the program as having a long term impact on students. “My greatest hope regarding Aging in Place is that when participating students reflect back on their careers years from now, Aging in Place will be considered as having been a special educational experience……..a powerful influence both on how they personally treat patients and their understanding of how social determinants influence health care outcomes.”

“As the population ages and life expectancy grows, programs such as Aging in Place will become more critical,” says Dr. Wentz. “By emphasizing preventive, at-home care and giving students early collaborative experiences, we are building a model that meets today’s and tomorrow’s needs. And increasing the students’ level of comfort in providing care will benefit all patients, not just seniors.”

The current pilot will run through February 2018.