Heyssel-STEP Program prepares medical students for the baby boomer generation

Interactions between medical students and senior citizens improve the future of geriatric health care.

The baby boomers are not your typical AARP cardholders. These senior discount beneficiaries have completely redefined retirement.

Because of this, MU staff and medical students have decided they must redefine their outlook on seniors in order to better understand their unique aging process.

Members of the baby boomer generation are working longer than any other generation that preceded them. According to a survey by AARP, 79 percent of the baby boomer generation plans to work during the standard retirement years.

This particular generation is healthier and more independent than past senior generations. Four percent of the senior generation is in nursing homes and 5 percent are in assisted living, said David Oliver, assistant director of the MU Interdisciplinary Center on Aging.

To prepare for this new and revolutionary generation to enter in the retirement phase of their life, MU medical departments have collaborated to create the Heyssel-Senior Teacher Educator Partnership program.

“The program helps fight the stigma that all seniors end up in nursing homes,” Oliver said.

The STEP program puts two separate generations together.

“As soon as they are together there are no (generation) gaps,” STEP Program Coordinator Peggy Gray said.

The program pairs up healthy independent seniors with a medical student. These students and their partners go to the theater, ball games, ride bikes and sometimes just spend a casual night in at each other’s houses.

These sessions, better known as “dates” amongst members of the program, result in two vital concepts between the groups: concern and understanding. Viewing the elderly population as people and not just as patients allows the medical students to develop a whole other level of concern and care for their geriatric patients, Gray said.

“Exposure creates friendship and friendships create concern,” she said.

One of the most important outcomes of the program is the mutual understanding gained by either group, Oliver said.

“With any ‘–ism,’ racism, classism, sexism and ageism, experience clearly shows the greater the interaction of these parties of diverse backgrounds results in a greater understanding, liking and appreciation of the other group,” he said.

An understanding of the baby boomer generation and their aging process can aid physicians with how to more effectively treat their elderly patients.

The importance of this program lies in the fact that most of the future doctors' patients will be elderly, Oliver said.

“In most hospitals today, well over half of the patients are 65 and older,” he said.

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