Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

September-October 2015

First-Year OSU Medical Students Begin Mentoring Program With Local Seniors

OSU-CHS students MAcey Casher and Xuyen Ha with senior mentor Donna Denney.

Macey Casher, left, and Xuyen Ha have lunch with their senior mentor, Donna Denney.

First-year medical student Xuyen Ha has found another reason attending Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine was the right choice for him – the Senior Mentor Program.

“As future physicians we need to know how to connect with our patients through human interaction,” he said at a Senior Mentor Program luncheon on recently where he met his mentor, Donna Denney. “I believe this will be very helpful.”

The initiative, now beginning its third year, pairs healthy older adults with medical students to develop the interpersonal skills physicians need to build relationships with patients.

“You’re volunteering your time to help us,” Ha told Denney. “I feel like it is a really big commitment for you and I appreciate that.”

The program is part of the Developing the Physician course, which includes community health activities, patient simulations, observing non-physician health care providers, interprofessional education with Southwestern Oklahoma State University and other activities that foster an understanding of the patient and the community.

Macey Casher, who also has Denney as her mentor, said she is pleased that OSU-COM has such a program.

“It is nice that early on in my medical school career I will learn to communicate well with patients,” she said. “Then once I get to my clinical experience, I will already have the interpersonal skills I need to succeed as a physician.”

Building relationships with patients is critical to providing effective health care, said Nancy Van Winkle, Ph.D., behavioral sciences professor, director of the Senior Mentor Program and one of three coordinators of the Developing the Physician course.

“Through this program, medical students learn to look at the individual rather than the disease,” she said. “It helps our students understand health care needs from the patient’s perspective.”

Fifty-nine senior adults volunteered this year to mentor 115 first-year medical students at OSU-CHS. Of those, 48 had been mentors before, Van Winkle said.

“It just shows that our senior mentors enjoy the experience and feel they have an important contribution to make to the lives of our students, and ultimately, to future patients,” she said.

Denney is one of the returning mentors. She was a mentor to a pair of students through their first and second years of medical school. That term expired last spring as her mentees moved on to clinical rotations in their third year.

“I came back because it is just so much fun,” she said. “And I love the kids. I know they’re not really kids anymore. But I was a teacher for 17 years and this gives me a chance to use the skills I have and the passion I have to help others.”

During the mentor program, students meet twice per semester to discuss topics such as the mentor’s life history, nutrition and end-of-life issues. Students learn patient interview skills and professionalism.

Van Winkle said other medical schools have similar programs but many are elective. At OSU-COM, the program is embedded within the curriculum.

“The reason we included this program in the curriculum is because our mission is to get students out in the community and to become involved,” she said.

First-year student Chelsea Beathard said she is intrigued with the program.

“I believe the mentor program will help us see our patients as a real person with feelings, emotions and thoughts,” she said. “It is a great way to start.”

For more information about the program or to volunteer, contact Lesley Vanvolkinburg, director of service learning, at lesley.vanvolkinburg@okstate.edu or 918-582-1972.

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