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University of Missouri

First Person

STEP Program partners medical students with active seniors.

Threshia Malcom and Ezio Moscatelli

Medical student Threshia Malcom eats lunch with her STEP partner Ezio Moscatelli. Photo by Rachel Coward.

When the baby boomers started to hit retirement age in 2011, there was already a need for more geriatricians. Although medical students complete clinical rotations in pediatrics and obstetrics before they graduate, a rotation in geriatrics is not required.

To combat negative stereotypes the next generation of doctors has about the aging, MU’s School of Medicine established the Heyssel-Senior Teacher Educator Partnership (STEP) to pair first-year med students with older people in the community. The groups meet for lunch six times a year in the Medical Sciences Building atrium, and some schedule outside get-togethers to the movies, grocery shopping or dinner.

“STEP enhances the understanding our students have for older adults,” says Peggy Gray, coordinator of the program. By socializing with active seniors — not ones who are already in the hospital — students cultivate acceptance and respect for the ever-growing aging population. “That translates into better care in the clinical and hospital setting. By being exposed to older people, [students] become advocates for them.”

Ezio Moscatelli has been a mentor in the community for four years. When he was hospitalized in the summer of 2012 with pneumonia, all five of his STEP students came to visit. “It makes me feel wonderful, like I have an umbrella of professionals who care for me,” says Moscatelli, professor emeritus of biochemistry.

Since 2001 when the program started, it has grown in its reach. The first year, only 30 percent of the first-year class (29 students) volunteered; this year, it was 61 percent (59 students). Over the past 12 years, 484 students and 614 seniors have participated.

“Our mission is to train students in a patient-centered fashion,” says Dr. Steve Zweig, Paul Revare Family Endowed Professor, chair of the family and community medicine department, and director of MU Interdisciplinary Center on Aging. “Knowing elders as persons first is an important step.”