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More than just a doctor's visit, a bridge to wellness (updated Aug 15)

We propose to reshape a doctor's visit by creating a Wellness Team made up of students and senior volunteers to serve as wellness coaches for aging community members.

Photo of Christian Burke
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We are in a health delivery crisis that may not be solved with more medications or procedures but needs to be addressed on the personal level. Using the doctor visit as the main point of contact, we propose to reshape this experience for seniors by creating a program to train both students and senior volunteers as wellness coaches that will be a mobile team visiting clinics and hospitals.

This is building on student passion and idealism combined with peer to peer support given from seniors to other seniors.  These two will form a team.

Training Wellness coaches in pairs:

Student Wellness Coach | Senior Wellness Volunteer (pairs)

Program Goals:
1. Enhance the health outcomes for seniors (reduce depression, increase interaction)
2. Boost compliance by senior role model
3. Reduce cost by empowering seniors with preventive care and wellness
4. Boost Competencies in Systems based practice and Professionalism

Learning Goals: By the end of this program, you will be able to…
1. Practice empathy skills
2. Apply motivational interviewing skills
3. Inform patients how to navigate complex health care system
4. Seniors will connect with others and share knowledge and experiences

There are three phases in this program:

1. Pre-program: preparation, education for the program which include practice with Standardized Patients, empathy training, team building and toolkits both physical and online.

2. During the session: student and senior paired as coaches, interviews and activities with patients and doctors in clinics and hospitals.

3. Post-program: evaluation of program, granting certificates, gathering feedback on teams and program, prepare to train the next participants


Any student can sign up to study in the Wellness Coach program. This is targeted at health care students will also include other students (business,technology, humanities and more).  The strength of this program is teaming up the student and the senior. This pair will then interact with the health care practitioners, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers.

A day in the life of a student and senior Wellness Coach would look like this. The student and senior are given specialized training in empathy, interviewing skills and how to connect the senior with what they need. They have a mobile workstation in the traditional health system that includes a place to rest, take notes, and keep their belongings. They wear a uniform and a badge. The badges show their areas of expertise and borrowing from the boy/girl scouts, they can deepen their knowledge and skills.


1. Badges: mastery and levels of expertise
2. Video tutorials on Motivational Interviewing
3. Insurance Cheat Sheet: used to direct and connect patient and healthcare
4. Map showing services in local area (physical maps to hand out and online maps)
5. Empathy: skills training guides in empathy and interviewing
6. Role Play  
The student coach and the senior volunteer will follow a course of role play.
They will take turns playing a Standardized Patients (people follow a script and p
retend to be patients with certain ailments).  Everyone on the team will follow the video and script to practice interviewing and delivery care for the most common encounters they are expected to face.

How might your idea scale and spread to reach as many people as possible?

We plan to develop this program at UCSF to test the ideas, then roll it out to affiliates around California.

Each group of coaches (students and seniors) will also teach the next group so this knowledge will grow.

We will evaluate this pilot and share it with others at regional meetings (WGEA in the west) and national meetings (AAMC).

How might your idea attract and involve partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors?

Mayo Clinic may be interested in partnering and running this at their affiliates also. We can then collect data and share results.

We also see partnering with medical schools, nursing schools and other health care educators. Some partners would be Geriatric divisions in hospitals, senior centers, assisted living centers, Meals on Wheels and other organizations like the Community Living Campaign (time bank of shared skills and resources). We also hope to tap into senior communities and create strong teams.

There are two projects here we plan to leverage:
Ageing Empathy Exercise

Caregivers Wellness Kit

How might you design an early experiment or prototype to further develop your idea?

This will be integrated into our existing Foundations of Patient of Care course which is where students go to clinics and engage with patients. This program can be used at Mayo Clinic and other health care clinics and hospitals.

At UCSF, we plan to use our medical students to start (150 students) as the starting point for students. We would like to add many different types of students as this develops (business, technology, humanities) to provide a diverse range of ideas and points of view.

We plan to develop a Standardized Patient case to train students in how to be effective wellness coaches before they head out into the community.

We plan to create a toolkit both for the senior volunteers and the clinics who offer this program.

Evaluation results

22 evaluations so far

1. How well does this idea enable people to maintain wellbeing and thrive as they age?

Really well. There's clear value in this idea for people of all ages - 86.4%

This idea is getting there but the connection to healthy ageing isn't quite clear - 13.6%

Not so well – there were other ideas that provide more real value for people as they age - 0%

2. Does this idea outline a clear mechanism or strategy that would enable it to scale and spread around the world?

Yep – it's really clear how this idea would get diffused and adopted by people from all over - 63.6%

Seems like the mechanism for diffusion still needs some fleshing out - 27.3%

No, it doesn't really look like it takes scale and spread into account. - 9.1%

3. How attractive is this idea for partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors to get involved?

This idea is ready for partnership! It's easy to see how and why different sectors would want to get involved - 72.7%

There's some opportunity for partners here but it would need more refinement to really attract other organisations or people - 18.2%

It's not clear to me how or why partners would be motivated to get involved - 9.1%

4. How easy would it be to pilot an early version of this idea for continued iteration and learning?

Really easy – ways that we might test this idea in a pilot are already springing to mind - 72.7%

A pilot would be doable – but we'd need to spend quite a bit of time to figure out how to do it - 27.3%

An early pilot doesn't seem too easy at this point - 0%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world - 72.7%

I liked it but preferred others - 22.7%

It didn't get me so excited - 4.5%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley

Hey Christian, hope you're doing well. I thought I'd reach out and see if you're interested in joining our new Youth Mentor Challenge sponsored by AARP Foundation? There are so many interesting overlaps between this current challenge, what we all learned together in the Healthy Aging Challenge last year, and your great idea here. I really enjoyed and appreciated your effort during the Healthy Aging Challenge – it'd be fun to have you join us for this challenge too. The Ideas phase just opened!

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