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Students Find Their Calling In A Crisis: A Win-Win for Socially Isolated Students and Socially Isolated Seniors

Last Updated: May 15, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a loneliness epidemic for older adults living in the community. To date, 73 medical students (in the 3rd and 4th year) at Boston University School of Medicine volunteered to conduct check-in phone calls for patients in our geriatrics clinical practice. The goals of the volunteer patient interaction were three-fold: 

  1. To help students understand access challenges that older adults may face 
  2. To help the patients by having someone to talk to as well as having their needs assessed 
  3. To provide medical students, who had been removed from clinical experiences, some interaction with patients. 

Prior to participating, students were asked to provide their views on volunteering for these calls. Below are representative quotes: “It's the right thing to do! We all need to help out. And anything I can do to brighten the day of an elderly patient facing social isolation will brighten my day too. Quite the win-win.” “These are very challenging times for everyone, let alone our geriatric patients. As a medical student, I feel that this is what I can do to do my part and help our patients.” 

The geriatrics clerkship director worked with clinicians in the Section of Geriatrics to develop a script to aid the students during these phone interactions. To date, 397 patients have been called. Each student volunteer called at least five patients and documented a telephone note in the electronic medical record. The note was then routed to the primary care clinician to alert them of any identified needs or concerns to be addressed. If a student thought there was an urgent issue or had a question they paged the geriatrics clerkship director. After completing calls to their assigned patients, students were also asked to share their thoughts on how the social check-in went and ways to improve the experience.

The following are some representative quotes: “This was a great opportunity for service. I really appreciated being part of the Geriatrics team and helping with remote patient care and service. It goes to show that everyone can be useful in some capacity.” “It was helpful to get a perspective on what this social isolation is looking like for people whose life circumstances are different from my own and that of my family/friends”.
This is an ongoing experience that has both fostered innovation on how to support our geriatric patient population while promoting learning for our students. 


Shivani Jindal, M.D., MPH, Boston University School of Medicine, Section of Geriatrics (Shivani.Jindal@bmc.org)