A Day in My Shoes Hopes to Encourage More Geriatricians

Assisted Living : A Day in My Shoes Hopes to Encourage More Geriatricians

As just about everyone from President Obama on down realizes, the U.S. has a severe shortage of hands-on medical doctors who want to practice in areas like primary care and geriatric care.   To help spark interest in the latter some medical students are being encouraged to spend a few days in an assisted living or nursing home facility as patients, to "spend a week in the shoes"  of the people they hope to help someday.  The New York TImes reported on this in "Experiencing Life, Briefly, inside a Nursing Home". What these medical students are finding from that experience is expected to help improve care and produce more doctors in a very scarce speciality.

Karen Murphy, a 38 year old medical student, spent 10 days in a Mamamoneck, N.Y. nursing home as part of this program. She entered with a "diagnosis" of mild stroke.  The experience was an eye-opener for Ms. Murphy, who admits that she previously thought that  "...nursing homes are scary".  Assigned to a wheelchair, she found that her lack of mobility and dependence on others depressed her, making her reluctant to want to interact with others.  The experience was positive for her, particularly when she came to realize that there were many areas where care could be improved. By the end she discovered that she loved working with the patients and that the feeling was reciprocated. One area that she thought could be improved was that families of the residents should be brought into more the residents' activities.


Another med student in the program, William Vogt, discovered small but important changes that he could make to improve the quality of the residents' lives.  A revelation for him was to see how much the residents come to see their assisted living or nursing home as their home, and the staff a "second family".  

Hopefully the program will succeed in both attracting new geriatricians and in improving the quality of care. Currently there is only 1 geriatrician per 5000 people over 65, and the ratio is only expected to get worse. Unlike many other specialities, Fellowship programs for geriatricians have many unfilled spots.

How About You Walking in Their Shoes?

The medical students' experience seems like a good model for relatives of those about to enter assisted living. While it might be difficult to spend much time as a pseudo-resident before your loved one enters a facility, you can still try to put yourself in their shoes. Watch the interaction with residents. Is the staff truly friendly, and not patronizing? Is all of the equipment of daily life reachable and operable by someone in a wheel chair? If you were a resident of the assisted living facility you are thinking of choosing, would be it a positive experience for you?

For further reference:  Assisted Living Checklist