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Open Access Research article

Medical student education program in Alzheimer’s disease: The PAIRS Program

Angela L Jefferson12*, Nicole G Cantwell2, Laura K Byerly23 and Darby Morhardt4

Author Affiliations

1 Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer's Center, Department of Neurology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA

2 Alzheimer’s Disease Center & Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

3 Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, Portland, OR, USA

4 Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:80  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-80

Published: 21 August 2012

Abstract

Background

As life expectancy increases, dementia incidence will also increase, creating a greater need for physicians well-trained to provide integrated geriatric care. However, research suggests medical students have limited knowledge or interest in pursuing geriatric or dementia care. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the PAIRS Program and its effectiveness in enhancing medical education as a service-learning activity and replication model for the Buddy ProgramTM.

Methods

Between 2007 and 2011, four consecutive classes of first year Boston University School of Medicine students (n = 45; 24 ± 3 years, 58% female, 53% White) participated in a year-long program in which they were paired with a patient with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Assessments included pre- and post-program dementia knowledge tests and a post-program reflective essay.

Results

Program completion was 100% (n = 45). A paired-sample t-test revealed a modest improvement in dementia knowledge post-program (p < 0.001). Using qualitative coding methods, 12 overarching themes emerged from the students’ reflective essays, such as observing care partner burden, reporting a human side to AD, reporting experiences from the program that will impact future clinical practice, and obtaining a greater understanding of AD.

Conclusions

Quantitative and qualitative findings suggest that the PAIRS Program can enhance the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes regarding geriatric healthcare in future generations of physicians, a skill set that is becoming increasingly relevant in light of the rapidly aging population. Furthermore, results suggest that The Buddy ProgramTM model can be successfully replicated.

Keywords:
Experiential learning; Qualitative methods; Communication; Dementia; Alzheimer's disease; Medical education; Service learning