Social Gerontology: How important is it for medical students?

aaSebastian Zaidman, Labib Hussain, Jack Lilly D’Cruz and William Yee Seng Tai all graduated from King’s College London in Summer 2015. In this blog, they discuss their recent Age and Ageinarticle, co-authored with Professort Anthea Tinker of KCL’s Institute of Gerontology, on the importance of social gerontology.

During our pre-clinical teaching at medical school, the rapidly escalating rates of age-related pathologies, Alzheimer’s Disease in particular, were a regular feature in lectures and tutorials alike. However, it wasn’t until our first clinical placements that we realised that a biomedical perspective of ageing would not suffice: to fully understand older patients’ medical conditions and to discuss best management and care options would necessitate a holistic view beyond the realm of a biomedical paradigm.

It is for this reason that we decided to take a year out of our medical studies to enrol on the Intercalated BSc programme at King’s College London.

The programme offers an unparalleled balance of taught modules on Social Gerontology, the Biology of Ageing, statistical methods and a student-selected research project.

A few months into the course, we met with our tutor, Professor Anthea Tinker to discuss our progress. We discussed our experiences of both pre-clinical and clinical medical teaching and all agreed that Social Gerontology was of great value to our future clinical practice. Four key subjects within Social Gerontology stood out as having particular importance –Demography, the Sociology of Ageing, the Psychology of Ageing and Social Policy.

We considered the merit of each of these subjects by drawing on our own experiences, and then searched for existing evidence on their importance for doctors. We found that the General Medical Council provide a broad core curriculum for undergraduate medical school teaching, but do not provide specific guidelines for each specialty. Worryingly, we also discovered that although the British Geriatrics Society have produced guidelines to improve teaching of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, evidence suggests that deficits exist in areas such as social ageing and elder abuse.

Now charged with the mission of raising awareness of Social Gerontology, we delivered an oral presentation titled ‘Why should medical students study Social Gerontology?’ at the annual conference of the British Society of Gerontology in July 2015. This provided a valuable experience to gain feedback from academics and professionals working with older people. Following this, we submitted a commentary article to Age & Ageing with the same title, which is now available online.

Having now returned to our clinical studies, we carry with us a heightened awareness of the unique challenges facing older people and the importance of biopsychosocial models of health and ageing. We believe that this will help us in our future careers, irrespective of our chosen specialty.


1 thought on “Social Gerontology: How important is it for medical students?

  1. A very welcome article and raises a rather important issue. How has the biomedical model continued to dominate undergraduate and postgraduate training despite the changed demographic over the last two decades?! None of this is ‘new’ knowledge and some medical schools including my own(Southampton University) were emphasising the biopsychosocial model 20 years ago. It wasn’t particularly popular at the time (and lectures relatively poorly attended) but was prescient. Naturally, in 2016 social gerontology should be part of mandatory training and not privileged to those doing an intercalated BSC.

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