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TCU SAGE program students
Harris College students partner with UNT Health Science Center in the SAGE program to learn about geriatrics and serve the Fort Worth community.

Students from TCU’s Harris College nursing, social work and speech pathology programs, TCU’S College of Science & Engineering dietetics program and the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and physician assistant programs come together to learn about geriatrics and serve the Fort Worth community through SAGE, the Seniors Assisting in Geriatric Education program. SAGE is part of TCU’s Interprofessional Education, Research and Practice Initiative, IPREP. This is a unique opportunity for collaboration between students from various backgrounds and disciplines to create solutions for healthier communities and safer health care systems.

“This is a great program where students often have their first opportunity to interact with real clients and patients before they enter their internship or clinical practicum,” explains Lynn Jackson Ph.D., TCU Department of Social Work’s director of field education. “The students engage with older adults in one of the fastest growing practice areas in health and social services to learn from these individuals and how to best serve them.”

People are living longer and the need for those with expertise in gerontology and geriatrics is increasing. Gerontologic health care professionals study and work with aging and older adults. The program strives to create meaningful relationships for an interprofessional team of students to learn about today’s older adult population and their needs while guiding the next generation of health care professionals. This program gives students an opportunity to interact with actual patients before beginning their clinical practicums.

“Their exposure now is not only going to change how they view taking care of older adults, but it also might motivate them to take a specialized path,” said Keri Christensen, assistant director of education programs. “Our goal is to prepare future health care professionals across the various fields to care for older adults because there is a shortage, but not a shortage of older adults.”

The educational component involves students interacting with each other and their assigned older adult through structured assignments delivered in the home environment. Student teams are paired into interprofessional teams of three or four and matched with a senior volunteer in the community, aged 65 and older, known as a “Senior Mentor.”

“Students get real-life exposure to working with an older adult that teaches the students about the issues and potential problems of their senior mentor’s environment,” said Christensen.

“The SAGE program expanded my interprofessional knowledge and skills like clear communication, taking initiative and respecting other professions,” said Karin Lee, a social work major and senior. “Although the program is geared toward working with older adults, I took those skills and what I learned from social work courses and applied them to my field placement. I intend to translate this knowledge toward graduate school and my social work career.”

The SAGE program includes four visits over one year, two in the spring and two in the fall, providing health care professions students with the opportunity to apply their classroom education in the context and care of an older adult. Students practice and demonstrate basic clinical skills, including taking histories, interviewing, conducting physical exams and cognitive assessments, and advising clients on nutrition and home safety, discussing available community resources and advanced care planning. Each visit has a specific topic and students must meet and plan their visits, followed by a reflection after each visit.

“What I enjoyed most was meeting with my senior, learning about her health care needs and how she is navigating the journey as a senior,” said René Aguilar, a master of social work student. “My team’s collaboration was strengthened with each visit and huddle. It was a privilege to learn from a diverse team and implement our diversity into the plan of care for the senior.”

UNTHSC established the SAGE program in 2009 and TCU joined in 2014. Today, eight health professions programs are involved and include students from TCU Nursing, the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders (COSD), the Department of Social Work and students in the nutrition program at TCU’s College of Science and Engineering that participate each year.