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Future doctors discuss geriatrics

Wearing foggy glasses to simulate vision loss was one of the first lessons presented to students attending a weeklong course in geriatrics.

Ninety-five second-year medical students will attend the mandatory program this week. Monday was the first day of class, which included such hands-on experiments as the foggy glasses and a two-hour discussion with a panel of senior citizens.

The program was developed by Dr. Ronald Schonwetter, a professor and director for the Division of Geriatric Medicine, and Lori Roscoe, assistant professor in the Office of Curriculum and Medical Education and a graduate of the Aging Studies Program.

“The population everywhere is aging, and the feeling is physicians and medical students don’t have the tools to address the problems of seniors,” Roscoe said.

Dr. Roger Landry, who specializes in preventative medicine and public health, led the discussion and the question and answer session Monday.

Landry, an employee of West Port Senior Living, said as babyboomers age, one out of every six people living in the United States will be 65 or older.

“Aging in America doesn’t have to be all about decline.” Landry said, adding that this was the most important thing future doctors should remember. “As physicians, it’s our job to assist them (senior citizens) to make the right lifestyle choices, stay engaged and challenge themselves.”

But, Landry said it is up to society, not just the medical community, to change the perception of senior citizens.

“We can’t afford to just put these people away and not tap into their experiences,” he said. “We need them in this country.” The ideal way to age, Landry said, is to spend more time living and less time dying by staying healthy.

“To do this you need to keep moving, challenge your mind, lower your risk for disease, get children in your life, find a purpose and be needed, laugh and never act your age,” he said. “That’s killer.”

Following Landry’s discussion, a panel of senior citizens described their experiences with doctors.

One of the stories that students heard was that of Ann Peal.Peal was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. Her doctor said she could expect to live another five years.

“It was a death sentence,” Peal, 78, said.

“He essentially told me to give up. I thought it was real honesty, but it was depressing.”

After the initial diagnosis, Peal consulted an oncologist. This time, the diagnosis was much happier and gave Peal a sense of hope and power.

“He said I should be fine with treatment. I’ve been in remission, and now it’s all under control,” she said. “That’s what I look for in a doctor – honesty. I want to know exactly what my situation is, and I want to have a great relationship.”

Panelist Dick Reed said he was in a hospital in Texas several years ago and needed prostate surgery. Reed noticed the doctor’s eyes wandering as he explained the procedure.

“He was looking past me,” Reed said. “I could see dollar signs in his eyes, and I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let this man operate on me.'”

Reed’s wife, Jane, another panel member, agreed that it is a doctor’s bedside manner that makes a difference for the patient.”I want a good relationship with my doctor,” she said.

“I want them to look me in the eye, smile, treat me like a person, respond to my questions and make me feel confident and safe. I put my medical care into their hands.”

Juanita Lillard, 90, the oldest panelist, said she wants to remain healthy and expects her doctors to help her do that.

“I depend on them to help me maintain the style of living to which I’ve grown accustomed,” she said.

Though the session was intended to benefit students in their future careers, Lillard said she hopes she connected with the audience on another level.

“I hope they understand how meaningful it is to have a healthy life and that with the right attitude you can do any thing you want,” she said.

Mike Greiwe, a medical student who plans to specialize in either pediatrics or orthopedics, said he came to an important realization after Monday’s discussion.

“I think the elderly in Tampa are a lot more full of life than I previously thought,” he said.

The rest of the week’s curriculum will include lectures and visits to nursing homes where students will assist in examining patients.

  • Contact Rachel Pleasant atoraclepleasant@yahoo.com