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PA students take histories from volunteers

BILLINGS, July 14, 2014 – In the midst of their study of geriatric patients, physician assistant students at Rocky Mountain College learned from the pros Thursday, July 3, when they each worked several hours with a volunteer resident of the St. John’s Lutheran Ministries campus in Billings. 

Each student spent about two hours with a volunteer then worked several more hours crafting thorough documentation of their visit. Volunteers ranged from nursing home residents to fit residents living independently. 

For the students about to go on clinical rotations, it was their “first chance to leave the college setting to examine someone,” said Mike Yorgensen, assistant professor and academic coordinator of the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program. Geriatrics coursework offers material on elder abuse and elder issues along with etiology of disease processes most common in mature populations. 

Students sign a security and confidentiality agreement. “The benefit for the students is excellence in taking history,” said Yorgensen. “It’s nothing invasive – it’s not poking or prodding.”

“A lot of it’s establishing good rapport with the residents who volunteered, which includes taking a thorough past and present medical history, then a review of body systems,” he said. 

Certified nurses from the senior citizens’ residence accompanied interviews. Yorgensen said, “I [floated] in the lobby to answer any questions from the students, and one resident asked me what was going on, so I let him know. He then asked if one of them could check him out.” 

Because his students are not yet certified providers, they provide no formal assessment or diagnosis, let alone treatment. Instead, they only recommended that a volunteer see her own provider for further assessment. The benefit for the volunteers is additional “attentive compassionate interaction,” Yorgensen said. 

Once they’re certified, some RMC students might have the chance to return to work with patients from St. John’s, Yorgensen said. In the meantime, “They have a better understanding of complexities in geriatric care and communities. The students were able to gain invaluable insights on learning from geriatric patients and were very gratified. They overwhelmingly thought that it was an excellent experience and recommend that we continue to provide this training in our program.” 

The RMC MPAS program encourages real-world training and early exposure to the medical environment. 

The volunteers, who received two hours for their exam, got to work with “the good listener that all patients dream of in a medical provider,” Yorgensen said.