UNC first-year med school student mentees meet their mentors.

The Senior Mentor Program, developed and directed by Ellen Roberts, PhD, MPH, is a required program for all first-year medical students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Program Goals

The program’s purpose is to improve the quality of care of future doctors when treating older persons. Through a series of visits with seniors, medical school students gain a broader understanding of the health impacts of aging. The program aims to:

  • counter stereotypes about aging
  • foster positive connections to older adults
  • develop effective skills for working with older patients

All first-year medical school students participate in the Senior Mentor Program during their spring semester Patient-Centered Care Course.The program pairs students with older adults who are currently living independently. In January, the Center for Aging and Health hosts a luncheon on campus for all participants. Students meet their mentors for the first time and begin the process of getting to know each other.

Who are Senior Mentors and what do they do?

Senior Mentors are 65 years and older and are all volunteers. They meet with students four times during the semester for approximately 90 minutes per visit. Students apply their developing clinical skills during their visits and interviews with their Senior Mentors.

Mentors share both personal and medical information so that students learn about seniors as people, community members, and patients. Students accompany their mentors on a clinic visit to see the health care system from the older patient’s point of view.

Terry P., a retired older adult living in Pittsboro, was a Mentor in the 2018 program.

“Students understand that they need to listen harder and focus on what the issue really is when they’re dealing with older people. They are very open and receptive and ask good questions.”

Both Terry and his partner participated as first-time mentors in the program.

“It’s nice to talk to young people and see their perception of where we’re coming from as older people and as older gay people,” said Terry. “We’re still growing, even at this age, and it’s nice to see them growing as well.”

If you’re interested in becoming a Senior Mentor, please contact Carol Julian at carol_julian@med.unc.edu.