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A Prescription for Mentoring

Building on existing programs which employ college students as advocates for patients in the healthcare system, create a program leveraging the same group of students, who can become advocates for seniors in accessing opportunities for mentoring in all of it's many forms.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
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How would you describe your idea in one sentence?

An opportunity to leverage an existing program, building on it to offer a "prescription for mentoring" from a doctor to a "senior" patient, employing college student volunteers as advocates to help seniors actually carry it out.

HealthLeads is an organization that assists physicians care
for their patients.  It enlists college students as advocates who assist patients to find solutions for basic services and needs, which include access to affordable and safe housing, food security, and heat.  Recognizing these needs as vital to the health of patients physicians write "prescriptions" for these services.  The college students then work towards carrying them out, side by side with patients at the point of service, the clinic sites.
Students receive training prior to starting their service.  They make a time commitment to be included in the program.  

from their website -
"Health Leads Advocates then work side by side with patients to navigate the complexity of the resource landscape – including tracking down phone numbers, printing maps, securing transportation, and completing applications. The Advocates follow up with patients regularly by phone, email, or during clinic visits. Relationships may be long-term or short-term based on patients’ needs and preferences."

This IDEA is to build on this existing organization, or one like it, which already employs a workforce of college student volunteers that work with patients of all ages.  What if we can piggyback onto this existing program focusing on mentoring services specifically for adults 50+.  

BUILD A BRANCH which will:

1 -  Focus on including a "prescription to access mentoring services" for "senior" patients that visit their physician.  Mentoring as we have learned on this challenge has so many positive effects.  It can be vital to the continued development and health - mental and physical - of seniors, as well as enriching the lives of youth.  Bidirectional mentoring can also be included as a service. (see below) The college students can assist in accessing programs that will fulfill the needs of each senior,  as they interview them at point of service for their health care.  Include services as described in the above quote which will help seniors navigate the path to finding and receiving mentoring opportunities.  Include a follow up system which will serve to build connections between the student and the senior over time.

2 - Enlist a further group of college students as Mentors.  Use the "prescription" as a referral to this group where one can be matched to an individual mentor based on individual needs - or on the needs of both mentor and mentee. 

The woman who started HealthLeads, Rebecca Onie, did it as a service project while she was a college student, in collaboration with Dr. Barry Zuckerman at Boston City Hospital.  She received a MacArthur Fellowship, 2009, for her innovative work, Project Health.  I recall reading about it at the time.  As a pediatrician who has worked in underserved communities, in hospitals just like Boston City Hospital, I remember thinking - Thank You! - this filled such a void.  We often did this work ourselves, squeezing it into patient visits, utilizing patients themselves as resources for what was available as services within their communities, which we then shared with other patients/families.  Project Health brought much to the lives of college students as well, fulfilling aspirations, bringing them personal experiences with citizens in their communities, building empathy, creating foundations for future career choices etc. etc.

I think HealthLeads may be a program for AARP Foundation and MentorUp to investigate as inspiration and/or connection.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gretchen Addi

Love your build on this idea Bettina and the build on an existing program. It seems like a natural extension to programs like Kaiser's Thrive campaign to support healthy behaviors outside the traditional healthcare environment and to get folks on track with wellness. The mentors could be "wellness advocates" that support 50+ folks with chronic illnesses that require behavior and diet changes or getting them into new routines around medications, check ups and self-monitoring. Would love to see you flesh it out more as an idea in the context of AARP and Mentor Up - partnerships with healthcare providers or schools - who might you talk to to get a solid understanding of how this could work in a healthcare context or as an extension of healthcare in the community.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Gretchen. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback! This is very interesting. I was thinking more in terms of referrals to mentoring programs related to general well being, thinking skill acquisition of all kinds, including those that would enhance job prospects for +50 folk who are out of work, or changing careers. There is a huge need for skill acquisition and support for seniors relating to physical health as well. Youth health advocates would be an awesome idea to investigate towards fulfilling this need. It would require a training program regarding subject matter and approach to patients. I have experience as a medical educator and I do have some thoughts about how to explore this. I can see how my post would lead in this direction. I was thinking about leveraging an existing program from a different perspective. Like HealthLeads which locates itself where patients come for care, a service made available to seniors in a location such as this, which identifies needs and desires, assists in finding resources/ mentors, can enhance quality of life contributing to wellness. I like the idea of building onto a health support service. In my experience connection to services, particularly in resource poor communities, is not always apparent or available. This could facilitate connections. Thoughts? Does that make sense?