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Jan. 31, 2017 - USA Medical Students Get Hands-On Experience in Geriatric Care

MercyMedical-1.jpgJonathan Todd (right), a fourth-year medical student at USA, and Dr. Eugene Lammers (left), medical director of Mercy Life of Alabama, works with Najah Mateen. A partnership between Mercy Life of Alabama and the USA College of Medicine enables fourth-year medical students to gain experience in complex geriatric care.

Fourth-year medical students at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have the opportunity to gain experience in complex geriatric care through a partnership between Mercy Life of Alabama and USA. The course is led by Dr. Eugene Lammers, adjunct clinical professor of medicine at the USA College of Medicine, and medical director and primary care physician of the Mercy Life of Alabama Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

Senior medical students are required to take two, four-week subspecialty courses to provide in-depth exposure and educational experiences in an area of their choice. The Mercy Life geriatrics course, MED 470, allows medical students to accompany Dr. Lammers and his team as they care for complex geriatric patients at the Mercy Life Clinic and USA Medical Center.

Jonathan Todd, a fourth-year medical student at USA, said the course has taught him the importance of looking beyond a diagnosis when working with the elderly population. “Mercy Life’s program addresses all of a patient’s unique needs, medical or otherwise,” he said.

USA Medical Center is one of the local partner hospitals that provides inpatient and outpatient care to Mercy Life participants. “Students see patients in our Life Center, as well as participate in our daily interdisciplinary team, weekly care planning and rounding on any inpatients at USA Medical Center,” Dr. Lammers said. “We work with the teams there to provide coordination of care, medication reconciliation and smooth transitions into and out of the hospital.”

The course introduces students to the importance of learning to care for complex geriatric patients through the PACE program, while also teaching students how to collaborate in an interdisciplinary team setting. Dr. Lammers’ interdisciplinary team is comprised of nurses, physical therapists, social workers and a chaplain. “This model can be tricky to use, but definitely provides a better outcome in this complex population,” Dr. Lammers said.

Dr. Lammers said the course is also beneficial to students because it exposes them to complex geriatric patients, as the patients seen at Mercy Life are sicker than the typical older adult in a primary care office. “These are patients sick enough to be in a nursing home, and we are trying to keep them in the community,” he said. Dr. Lammers and his team often see older adults with complicated diabetes, heart and other vascular disease, kidney failure, polypharmacy issues, depression and social isolation.

According to Dr. Lammers, educational experiences in geriatric care are important for all medical students. “The number of older adults is rising rapidly, and no matter the discipline, knowledge of basic principles of geriatrics will be useful,” he said.

Todd, who chose to specialize in psychiatry, said the course was beneficial in many ways. “Although mental illnesses are prevalent in all populations, certainly the elderly are at increased risk,” he said. “Having a solid knowledge base about the medical and non-medical issues prevalent in this population is a must for everyone who works in health care.”

“The partnership between Mercy Life and the USA College of Medicine has really been a win-win,” Dr. Lammers said. “As a 1982 graduate of the USA College of Medicine, I am proud to be able to be involved in education at USA.”

The Mercy Life PACE program provides a full spectrum of health care services, from primary to acute long-term care for elderly individuals eligible for nursing home care. “PACE is a program that focuses on patients who meet the Medicaid criteria for long term care in a nursing home, but want to remain at home without help,” Dr. Lammers said. “We provide comprehensive services including primary care, coordination with all specialists, transportation services, a day center with activities, rehab services, medications and nutrition support.”

To learn more about Mercy Life, click here.

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