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Caring Companions Initiative - Facilitating Social Connections with Isolated Older Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last Updated: May 6, 2020


Introduction: The geriatric population has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, both physically and emotionally. In addition, medical students themselves report having limited opportunities to make a positive impact on patient care during this pandemic. We recognize how both groups - students and seniors - can therefore help each other during these times. Our initiative, Caring Companions, is connecting Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) students with community-dwelling older adults. 
Concept: Under the guidance of a Rutgers RWJMS geriatrician and without any funding, three medical students in different stages of their academic careers (M1, M2, and M3) have designed a phone-based communication initiative to enhance social support to the local elderly population. Medical students are uniquely positioned to fulfill this role as, during this period, education has become remote. Part of medical training involves learning how to tend to individuals’ psychosocial needs and is a tenet of providing patient-centered care.

Methods: The organizers emailed the medical student body seeking volunteers. Seventy responses were received in just five days, highlighting the fact that medical students are eager and willing to help the elderly population during the pandemic. Volunteers include 13 M4s, 22 M3s, 8 M2s, and 27 M1s. Volunteers are assigned to patients aged 75-85 in the general internal medicine practice and provided with their phone numbers. To support the volunteers, the organizers provided a calling script, a list of community resources and links to reliable COVID-related information (see Google Drive). In addition, formal feedback will be solicited from volunteers once a week, in order to continuously improve the initiative.

End Goal: To ameliorate the consequences of social distancing, such as feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression (1). We hope that this initiative brings joy to both the medical student participants, as well as the geriatric patients, during this historic and isolating pandemic. 


Zahava Brodt, M.D., Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (znb7@rwjms.rutgers.edu)