COMPANIONSHIP: Medical students gain insights from the elderly

By Tina Shelton
They may be in only their first year of medicine, but they’ve already learned how to make someone’s day. The first-year medical students in the WISH Program (WISH stands for Wellness Initiative for Seniors in Hawai`i) hosted a Valentine’s Day-themed celebration at the Kuakini Home this week, helping the senior citizen residents there make lovely, colorful holiday cards and centerpieces.

Everywhere you looked, the students were in action. Justin Yamamoto was handing out craft supplies. Ronald Hirokawa was carefully wielding a clothes iron, pressing colorful wax pieces to form the heart centers of the Valentine’s decorations. Mariko Shimizu was helping assemble sheets of construction paper, while Yuho Ono chatted with a man whose face beamed with a broad smile. In a break room, Alain Takane layered chocolate pudding and vanilla wafers into parfaits as snacks for the seniors.

It’s not just on Valentine’s Day that students of the University of Hawai`i John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) are making a difference in these seniors’ lives. Each aspiring physician in the WISH Program is paired with a care home resident to be their one-on-one companion for the entire year. The student and senior spend, on average, two to three hours a week together.

With an artistic eye, MS1 Ronald Hirokawa, carefully examines a Kuakini senior's heart center piece.

With an artistic eye, MS1 Ronald Hirokawa, carefully examines a Kuakini senior’s heart centerpiece.

“The seniors adore seeing the students’ young faces, and the medical students learn a lot about the unique health care needs of the elderly by spending time with the kūpuna,” said JABSOM Educational Specialist Misty Yee, of the UH Department of Geriatric Medicine. “It almost seems like the student and their senior companion are family, they spend so much time together.” The Valentine’s-themed event is one of three holiday parties that the current crop of WISH first-year medical students have hosted at Kuakini Home this year. There were also parties for Halloween and Christmas.

JABSOM Geriatric Medicine Chair Dr. Kamal Masaki serves as as the Faculty Director for the WISH program, but its activities are generated by the students. “Two current fourth-year medical students, Marina Morie and Jenny Chan, actually started the WISH program, so that the students entering school after they did would have this learning and social opportunity with the seniors,” said Yee.

Alain Takane mixes layers of chocolate pudding and granola into parfaits as snacks for the seniors.

Alain Takane mixes layers of chocolate pudding and granola into parfaits as snacks for the seniors.

Ronald Hirokawa uses a clothes iron to press colorful wax pieces into the heart centers of the Valentine's decorations.

Ronald Hirokawa uses a clothes iron to press colorful wax pieces into the heart centers of the Valentine’s decorations.

First-year medical students at JABSOM are required to be involved in community service, as a way to increase their exposure to the people of all ages who they will be treating in the future. JABSOM also is one of the few U.S. medical school which requires its future MDs to perform a clinical rotation in geriatric medicine–a plus, given the population of older adults in Hawai`i is growing faster than anywhere else in the country The UH JABSOM Department of Geriatric Medicine provides education for medical students, (post-MD) Residents in Internal Medicine, Family Practice, OB-GYN and Psychiatry, and runs one of the largest fellowship (geriatric medicine specialty) programs in the country.

MS1 Mariko Shimizu chats with a Kuakini senior as she helps him assemble his heart craft.

MS1 Mariko Shimizu chats with a Kuakini senior as she helps him mount the center part of his heart-shaped decoration.

 

As a Kuakini senior looks on, MS1 Justin Yamamoto begins to assemble her centerpiece.

As a Kuakini senior looks on, MS1 Justin Yamamoto begins to assemble her heart-shaped decoration.

The Kuakini Home is an adult residential care facility located on the grounds of the Kuakini Health System.

Photos are by Arnold Kameda.

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