Ralph Cautley, 90, pulled out his vintage suitcase as Erika Moody, Andrea Montgomery and Hesham Mostafa watched with anticipation.
Although the three UC medical students were dressed for success in collared shirts and freshly ironed suits, the atmosphere inside the small Maple Knoll Village retirement cottage was warm and friendly.
Mostafa even sat in stockinged feet as Cautley clicked the latches of his case, opened the lid and pulled out a laptop computer.
This followed a discussion about Cautley’s love of gadgets and a photo shoot of the group with his newly purchased iPhone.
“You seem more technologically connected than I am,” says Montgomery, as the group chuckled in agreement.
It may have seemed like any pleasant visit, but Moody, Montgomery and Mostafa were on a mission—a mission to learn about health care from the viewpoint of patients.
All incoming medical students participated in the “Tell Me Your Story” event, an orientation-week activity that involved visiting residents of Maple Knoll to hear about their past experiences with health care.
About 160 students ventured to the Springdale facility in early August to not only gain advice about how to be good physicians, but also to form relationships and friendships with people who may one day be patients.
“The primary focus is to talk to seniors about what they’ve liked about their doctors throughout the years,” says Betty Gothelf, assistant professor of clinical family medicine and assistant for the office of geriatric medicine. She coordinates the program.
“The topics range from what it was like to move to Maple Knoll and relationships with doctors to favorite pastimes and hobbies,” she continues.
After students speak with residents of Maple Knoll, they meet in groups with UC faculty and reflect on the stories they have heard and the knowledge gained from the experience.
The program has been in existence for four years. It originated from a grant that was awarded to the department of family medicine. Barbara Tobias, MD, spearheaded the program.
It was later passed on to the office of geriatric medicine.
“This is often the students’ first ‘patient encounter,’” says Gothelf. “It’s our goal to instill a positive image of the aging population. All of these people are vibrant and independent and can make their own decisions. It amazes many students.”
Gregg Warshaw, MD, director of the UC office for geriatrics, agrees.
“‘Tell Me Your Story’ is a particularly exciting educational experience, especially since the new students’ instructors are healthy, older adults in their 70s, 80s and 90s,” he says. “The older adult volunteers look forward to hosting the medical students in their apartments and cottages, and the new medical students have a chance to learn about medical care from experienced consumers.”
Mallory McClester, a student who is ready to start her second year of medical school at UC, says she viewed the experience as a way to “jump right in.”
“No matter what field of medicine you go into, at some point you are going to encounter the geriatric population,” she says. “It’s amazing that on our second or third day of medical school we were given the opportunity to interact with potential patients.”
But the Maple Knoll residents also enjoy the opportunity to make a difference in health care for future generations.
Howard Boettcher, a 103-year-old resident, had a lot to say about the way doctors used to be.
“And in my years, I’ve seen a lot of doctors,” he says with a smile.
He says that he thinks that present health care initiatives are solid, but that the costs for patients are too high.
“Doctors in the past would make the extra effort to help someone without a payment,” he says. “It seems that human nature has changed. I think there should be more emphasis on helping a patient and less on a paycheck.”
Elizabeth Dayton-Cautley, Ralph’s wife, says she’s had a relatively good history with health care providers and enjoys encouraging younger generations.
The retired teacher and artist participates in “Tell Me Your Story” annually and says she learns from the experience just as much as the new medical students.
“It’s educational for all,” she says. “Ralph and I just love to meet the students and share a little bit of ourselves with them.”
Gothelf says the UC geriatric office is very proud of this program. Oftentimes, students and residents stay in touch after their meeting.
“It gives older generations a chance to share hopes they have for the future of medicine and share their wisdom with younger people,” she says. “It’s beneficial for all.”