BMC Medical Education (2019-05-01)

A qualitative study of the impact of a dementia experiential learning project on pre-medical students: a friend for Rachel

  • Jill S. Goldman,
  • Amy E. Trommer

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 19, no. 1
pp. 1 – 8


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Abstract Background With Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias affecting approximately 7 million people in the United States, comprehension of the multitude of issues facing individuals with dementia and their families and compassion for them are essential components of good healthcare. The service learning program, A Friend for Rachel, was developed in 2011 to train pre-medical students about dementia and give them sustained exposure to people with dementia to foster understanding and compassion and decrease stigma,. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of the program on pre-medical students. Methods Since 2011, 101 students participated in A Friend for Rachel. They were required to write weekly reflections about their interactions with their friends living with dementia. Each study author read these reflections to identify major recurrent themes. The authors discussed the themes and came to consensus. The reflections were then reread to analyze for sub-themes. Results Analysis of students’ reflections exposed five major themes: learnings about dementia, learnings about caregiving, their own experienced emotions, impact on career choice and learnings about good medicine, and impact on life. The reflections demonstrated appreciation of the issues raised by dementia, empathy for individuals living with dementia and their families, and comfort with people with dementia. The reflections also demonstrated how the program had a positive impact on the personal lives of the students. Conclusions Through experiencing a sustained relationship with a person living with dementia, A Friend for Rachel allows pre-medical students to re-evaluate their beliefs about dementia and appreciate the need for compassionate care for people with dementia. A Friend for Rachel also provides students with the opportunity to examine their personal lives and goals.