More than a mentor: Senior citizen donates to geriatric education at UNTHSC

Clarabele "Pit" Dodson is helping students learn more about patients in their golden years. For several years she’s been a mentor to UNT Health Science Center students in Seniors Assisting in Geriatric Education (SAGE), a unique UNTHSC program that expands students’ understanding of older patients.

And now she’s also a major SAGE underwriter.

Her gift of $100,000 over five years will help defray the $150,000 annual cost to provide this training to the more than 650 DO, PA and PT students now involved.

"Donating to SAGE and to the Health Science Center, I know my money is being used well," Dodson said. "These are fabulous young people, interested in the person they’re treating. It’s a one-to-one connection."

SAGE mentors, who are each at least 65 years old, are paired with students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine as well as Physician Assistant Studies and Physical Therapy students from the School of Health Professions.  These future physicians and health professionals visit mentors in their homes, providing a free blood pressure check, limited physical exam, nutrition assessment, home safety evaluation, and discussions of community resources and advanced-care planning.  

SAGE is among the assets that set UNTHSC apart from other health science centers – it’s the largest program of its kind in the U.S., with hundreds of mentors and students from multiple disciplines. SAGE also will soon include pharmacy students.

Now in its fourth year, SAGE is a win-win for mentors and students, many of whom have not had previous interactions with seniors.  The students’ eyes are opened to the complexities of the geriatric patients, as well as their resilience. Dodson is "the most active person I know," said TCOM student Nathan Mielke. He and Linh Nguyen were Dodson’s SAGE students in 2010 and 2011.

The bond between students and mentor is clear. "I call them ‘my young doctors.’ I’m so proud of them," said Dodson.

"She told us she would get us out of jail if we ever need it," said Nguyen, laughing.

Said Dodson, "It fills me with hope to see such dedication in young people who have found their calling."

For more information on SAGE, please contact Yolanda Pitts, 817-735-0289 or yolanda.pitts@unthsc.edu.

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