Brown medical students get hands-on training at West Bay


After dealing with severe hearing issues, senior citizen Margaret Carr thought she was going to have to spend $4,000 on a hearing aid. It wasn’t a fee she was thrilled about.

But Amber Clark, a first year medical student at Brown University, stepped in and saved Carr not only $4,000 but also a lot of frustration simply by examining her inner ears.

“She found whatever was growing in there and made me call my doctor,” Carr said with a laugh. “The doctor flushed my ears out, and here I am, brand new. I don’t need a $4,000 hearing aid. Those things don’t work anyway.”

Carr and Clark are participants in the Alpert Medical School assisted living program within the doctoring program at Brown. It is a required course for all first year medical students and aims to show students the importance of developing long-lasting relationships with patients and prepare them for clinical rotations in hospitals during their third and fourth years of medical school.

More than 100 students are involved in the program. They work alongside physicians who mentor and guide them through crucial clinical skills, including medical interviewing, history-taking, physical diagnosis and professional conduct. The service is provided for free.

To practice these skills, students are broken up into groups of eight and visit 14 local facilities statewide to interact with clients who pose as patients through the course of a year.

Among the places one group visits is West Bay Retirement Living at 2783 West Shore Rd., where Carr resides. Carr said one of the best components about meeting with Clark is that it gives her a chance to socialize.

“It gets me away from television, word searches and crossword puzzles,” she said.

Other residents, who met with their students for the final time a few weeks ago, agree. Bill Amirault said he has learned more about his health because of the program.

“I’m more aware of the medications I’m taking and activities I could get into,” he said. “And I’m helping somebody get their doctor degree.”

Students are equally as pleased. Gregory J. Barnett, who was paired with resident Olga Sauchelli, enjoyed their time together.

In fact, when Sauchelli needed to be hospitalized recently, Barnett visited her and gave her a rose.

“It’s been nice talking with her and getting to know her better,” he said.

Of course, he also said their interaction has been beneficial to his studies.

“I learned how to speak with a patient and how to get them to open up and talk to you,” he said.

For his classmates, Kelly MacDonald and Sarah Rapoport, the program has been rewarding in many ways. They feel it’s beneficial to interact with senior citizens so they can understand more about the elderly community as well as their personal needs.

“The resident I met with is over 100 years old and it’s been amazing to speak with him throughout the semester and see how vibrant and healthy someone his age can be,” MacDonald said. “Meeting with patients in this setting makes me more aware of their lives and agendas. When talking to patients in the hospital, you tend to focus on the information we are trying to find. It’s a different dynamic.”

Rapoport concurred.

“I think any experience outside the classroom your first year of medical school enriches the experience you’re having inside the classroom,” Rapoport said.

Rohit Sangal feels the same. As Sangal was checking in with his patient, Amirault, and asking him about his eye health, he said getting hands-on training is ideal.

“A lot of the times, we’re reading something in a text book and trying to memorize facts,” said Sangal. “But, there’s a human side to this. It’s not so much about his eyes, but more about listening to the stories he has to tell. As for the medical side, it’s been a great practice for the skills I’m trying to learn.”

Amirault said he would miss Sangal’s visits. Nevertheless, he is grateful that he got the opportunity to get to know a young aspiring doctor.

“He does a very good job,” Bill said. “I think he is going to be a very good doctor.”

Lou Pugliese, a professor at Brown, is the coordinator of the assisted living program. He said he selected West Bay because Brown currently works with West Bay’s sister facility, East Bay Manor, located in East Providence.

Moreover, Dr. Kenneth Salzsieder, a local practicing cardiologist, as well as Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson, a health care professional that works with Salzsieder, who also is the chaplain at Brown, serve as program instructors and accompany students on visits. She said the program allows students to get a sense of what a doctor’s day-to-day life is like and helps to improve their bedside manners. Whether or not they feel comfortable making general conversation with patients, it’s something they need to learn.

“We can prove with research that when your doctor greets you with a warm welcome, you open up quickly and offer the things the doctor needs to know,” she said.

West Bay Executive Director Brian Loynds and Director of Health Services Denise Dorman, RN, think the program is a win-win for students and residents alike.

“For them to have an opportunity to sit down with some young medical students to share their history and their experiences in life is great. It’s good for both young and old,” Loynds said.


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