Way Past the Clinical Aspects I Learn In School

“You have touched me in a very special way. This experience for me was way past the clinical aspects I learn in school.”

A Jefferson student and her ARTZ mentor embrace in front of a tile mural

The students and mentors started saying their good-byes to each other this week.

Seven Pharmacy students, two nursing students, two students from Occupational Therapy, one radiology student and seven students in their first year at Sidney Kimmel Medical College have been taking part in the first semester of “HeART Stories: Building Empathy Through the Arts.” This is a unique course offered as a humanities elective to medical students at Jefferson and as an experiential or service learning course to many of the other students.

Their mentors were three men with dementia diagnoses and their wives; two women living with dementias and their husbands; two care partners of spouses with advanced dementias; two long-time care partners of spouses with dementias who are now gone; an adult son and his father who is living with young onset dementia; and two adult daughters of mothers living with dementias.

Students and mentors first met in early September to look at and talk about art together at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, The Barnes Foundation, and Woodmere Art Museum. For the next two months, they met off and on with each other in one-on-one meetings, and with their facilitators. Some of the one-on-one meetings took place on the Jefferson campus; some took place back at the museums where they had first met; and some took place in the casual settings of coffee shops.

The purpose of the course?

To provide students at Jefferson the unique opportunity to build relationships with community members living with dementia and their care partners. Not as patients. But as people. And throughout this process, to deepen their own understanding of themselves as people and as future healthcare professionals; and to strengthen the vital attribute research has shown is most likely to be compromised or lost altogether during their years of professional training: empathy.

As the students’ and mentors’ time together drew to a close, one of the students wrote this to his mentor:

“You have touched me in a very special way. This experience for me was way past the clinical aspects I learn in school. I have gained so much interest in helping others that are in the same situation you are in that may not be strong enough to reach out. I truly admire your strength and the devotion you have put into ensuring your wife lives the best life she possibly can. I hope we can stay in touch outside of this program. The next student you are placed with will be extremely lucky to have you as a mentor.”

To learn more about participating in HeART Stories, click here.