Practicing medicine is practicing listening.

That was the message of the Young at Heart Luncheon hosted Feb. 23 by students in the UAMS College of Medicine for patients and volunteers in the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.

Junior Eric Peeler and sophomore Stephanie Dayer organized the event with the help of their peers in the Geriatric Interest Group and its faculty mentor Gohar Azhar, M.D., professor of geriatrics and co-director of the Cardiovascular Aging Program.

Doctor shaking hands with patient

Gohar Azhar, M.D., professor of geriatrics and faculty mentor of the Geriatric Interest Group, greets guests at the luncheon.

The group enjoyed lunch, played games and heard from speakers, all while seated at small round tables to facilitate conversation.

“All of you have such wonderful individual stories that you can teach us,” Azhar said to the guests. “When you come and visit us in the clinic, not only do you learn from us, I always learn from you.”

To the students, Azhar said she wants them to learn to live their lives in a spirit of listening.

Jeanne Wei, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of the Reynolds Institute, agreed. After hearing guest speaker Charles Norman tell the story of how having his complaints of fatigue and “something being off” ignored by his physician nearly cost him his life, Wei advised the guests to “find someone who will listen to you and someone where you will listen to them, so that we can help and support each other, as providers, patients and family members and friends.”

“And the same goes for you,” she told the students. “Listening of course goes both ways.”

Dayer and Peeler said the inspiration for the event developed out of a desire to give back, but learn as well.

Student at podium

Junior Eric Peeler welcomes everyone to the event, which featured lunch, speakers and games.

“It’s an opportunity for students to get to know the older generation, to form a bridge between the two groups,” Dayer said. “The patients can see that they’re a part of our training. When we see them in the clinic or at events like this, it’s a reminder that they’re giving back by helping guide the next generation of doctors. Hopefully, they can see that we appreciate them.”

The Geriatric Interest Group, like many other interest groups across campus, provides a way for students with common interests but who may be at different stages of their training to interact, network and integrate more deeply with life on campus. There are about 15-20 students in the geriatric group, and their interests range from those who want to become geriatric physicians to those who want to do research to those who simply want to know more about working with older populations.

“The truth is that with most of the disciplines I could go into, a lot of my patients are going to be older, so I feel that it’s important to learn about working with them,” Peeler said. “There is a need there and I don’t think we as a society are addressing it as much as we should.”

Peeler is working on a project in the Institute on Aging and Dayer is conducting research on osteoporosis.

Speaker at podium

Speaker Betty Scull advises students on how to be happy in their careers.

“One of the great things about working on a project here is you get exposed to a variety of things,” Dayer said. “Geriatrics is a discipline that is actually all-encompassing.”

Speaker Betty Scull advised the students about happiness and success as they follow their career paths: “tie good knots in your thread,” she said, meaning for them to always remember to pay attention to the fundamentals. The group ate a buffet-style lunch and played a few rounds of computer-aided Wheel of Fortune together, complete with prizes for first, second and third place.

Taking home the top prize was team Desiderata, a nod to the Max Ehrmann poem by the same name referenced by Scull during her talk. She said the poem helped her turn things around during a dark time in her career and helped her develop the attitude that sustained her in the years to come. It reads, in part:

“Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others,

they too have their story.”