A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

It’s a Wonderful Life

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Students learn to take a different kind of patient history in a new program.

Early last year, Jeffrey Lam ’16 MD’22 learned about a program known as My Life, My Story. MLMS, which originally began as a Veterans Affairs initiative, is an opportunity for older adults to share their life stories with health care providers, and for providers to practice more effective patient-centered care.

Lam, who concentrated in health and human biology as an undergraduate, says he was drawn to the humanistic aspect of My Life, My Story. “What feels most meaningful in medicine, to me, is getting to know a person,” he says.

Wanting to incorporate the MLMS program into the Doctoring curriculum, he applied for and received the 2020-2021 Bray Fellowship in Medical Humanities, a one-year grant for medical student projects that propose new ways to tackle health care challenges.

Hospice and palliative care fellow Mara Feingold-Link MD’17 F’21 helped Lam develop the curriculum and write a guide to help facilitate the conversations. Each first-year medical student is paired with an older adult volunteer in the community, with whom they speak via Zoom or phone to learn about their lives. The student then writes a first-person narrative about their volunteer and shares it with them.

“The program was an important reminder that everyone has a story to share, and that so many older adults live such vibrant lives,” says Carey Favaloro MD’24, who was paired with lifelong Rhode Island resident Helen Decesare.

“When you show up with a real intention to listen, you can learn so much.” Decesare says she appreciated how open to listening the students were.

“I love learning, I love talking, and I love the younger generation,” she says. “It was a joy to meet such great young people.”

Her advice to students—to treat all elderly patients as if they are their own parents or grandparents—was especially touching to Favaloro.

“Being able to emotionally connect with a younger person during the pandemic had such meaning for [the volunteers]. As so many of them have been isolated by this pandemic, it was truly a gift for them,” says Anne Quinn, LICSW, CCM, who coordinates the program volunteers and conducts follow-up surveys.

Other participants said they found it rewarding to help shape future physicians and ensure that they were mindful of the needs of older adults, Quinn says. Lam adds, “The MLMS curriculum allows students to take a moment to bear witness to others’ stories, rather than doing more or saying more or informing more.”

MLMS will remain a part of the firsty-year Doctoring curriculum, thanks to the support of Julia Noguchi, MA, MPH, assistant director of the Doctoring curriculum, and Dana Chofay RES’98, MD, course leader of Year 1 Doctoring.

Meanwhile Lam and Feingold-Link are working to incorporate the program into the internal medicine clerkship rotation and start an MLMS-based volunteer program for undergraduate and medical students.

“I think it’s just as important that we learn from our patients as they learn from us,” Lam says. “The earlier we learn this as medical students, the better.”

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