By Jennifer Parraga, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
Forty students from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry have found unexpected friendships with senior members of the local community during the past year.
They have done so through the Student-Senior Isolation Prevention Program (SSIP) – an initiative promoting comfort, social connection and isolation-prevention with seniors.
Originating with the University of Toronto and the family health team at the University Health Network Toronto Western Hospital, the program expanded to other medical schools at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schulich Medicine’s chapter started in May 2020.
“We established the Western chapter so that we could address a very important issue in the older adult population, namely social isolation,” said Jia Yan Zhang, Medicine Class of 2023. “We know from statistics and from our experiences that older adults are particularly vulnerable to social isolation because of a number of factors and this has further been exacerbated by the COVID-19 quarantine.”
The program connects medical student volunteers, by phone, with older adults in the community who have been referred by their health care providers.
And while many of the student volunteers became involved because they wanted to help mitigate seniors’ social isolation, they have established strong connections with their friends and personally benefitted from the calls themselves.
Six medical schools across Canada now have the program which will continue post-pandemic and was a recipient of a $50,000 JOULE COVID-19 Innovation grant.
“Joining this program has been one of the highlights of my year,” said Dirusha Moodley, Medicine Class of 2023. “My friend is insightful, witty and an excellent conversationalist. I’m constantly inspired by her positive outlook and ability to find the beauty in life. I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to know her. We often talk about how nice it would be to meet in person. I look forward to the day that this is possible.”
Added Ruth Neumann, Medicine Class of 2023,“As medical students, there is a lot we can learn from the varied experiences of the older members in our community… Being a part of the SIPP program has affirmed for me that a key component of shaping stories is taking the time to listen to the lived experiences of those we serve.”