August 31, 2021

Bridging the generational gap: New Phone Pals program connects medical students with senior citizens

Wayne State University medical students Cole Goodman, left, and Xavier Akins, created the Phone Pals program.

Two Wayne State University School of Medicine students who believe social interaction is a much-needed medicine to combat feelings of loneliness and anxiety, especially among isolated older adults, have created Phone Pals, an entirely volunteer-based organization composed of first- and second-year medical students.

Phone Pals matches each student with an older adult in the community. The student is responsible for calling once a week to check in and chat. The calls range from a brief check-in to longer conversations, providing an opportunity for the phone pals to get to know, and learn, from each other, bridging the generation gap.

The program was founded by second-year medical students Cole Goodman and Xavier Akins in April. The duo shares a passion for geriatric health.

“We both feel that seniors are often overlooked and undervalued. Our goal was to reach out to this community in the hope that we could make a difference by providing a consistent and friendly voice,” Goodman said.

They placed their first official call in May. So far, they’ve matched 15 medical students with seniors.

“This number is steadily increasing and we are excited to watch the program continue to expand,” Goodman said.

The program partnered with the Rosa Parks Geriatric Center at the Detroit Medical Center and the St. Patrick Senior Center in Detroit, which advertise on their behalf and help connect students to older adults who could benefit.

“Additionally, we have plans to expand our program and expect to have additional community partners in the near future. We were pleasantly surprised by how much interest our program garnered from our medical student body and feel fortunate to attend a medical school that values community service and outreach,” Goodman added.

Phone Pals ties into “Service Learning” and “P4: Population, Patient, Physician and Professionalism,” two longitudinal courses throughout the Warrior M.D. first- and second-year curriculum.

“Our program allows students to utilize and hone the ‘people’ skills we are taught in the classroom and clinic,” Goodman said. “Both Service Learning and P4 stress the importance of empathy and taking the time to learn about and understand our patients. Engaging with older adults on a regular basis helps us to better understand and appreciate the elderly population and their needs.”

To learn more about the program, contact Goodman at Cole.goodman@med.wayne.edu or Akins at Xavier.akins@med.wayne.edu.

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