Training and Mentoring Medical Students in Aging Research

For two decades, the Medical Student Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) program has provided medical students the opportunity early in their training to gain experience in aging-related research and geriatrics, under the mentorship of top experts in the field.

The idea is to encourage medical students to consider a career in geriatrics. And even for those who choose a different path, the experience provides an understanding of geriatrics that can last a lifetime.

Started two decades ago as a summer research internship program for medical students, MSTAR was originally funded with a grant from the Hartford Foundation to AFAR. In 2004, as the sustainability of foundation funding became a concern, the NIA was able to build on the mutual trust established through the Beeson Scholars partnership (The Best of Both Worlds: Forging a Model Public-Private Partnership) and bring MSTAR into its portfolio through an existing, but largely unused, training grant mechanism designed specifically for medical students.

Fact: 90 percent of former MSTAR students responding to a 2012 survey said the internship program had made them more aware of the needs of older adults.

In the current partnership model, about 150 students annually travel to medical schools serving as training centers with support from the NIA, or they can train at their home institutions with support from private philanthropy. At all of these sites, mentorship from faculty experts in the care of older adults is an “extremely important” aspect of the internship, according to Ms. Lederman, executive director of AFAR. The students also work on a research project and get to present their findings in a poster session at the American Geriatrics Society annual meeting.

“One of the great joys of my work at Hartford has been being able to sit in on the truly impressive presentations MSTAR students make at the end of their summer internships in New York,” says Program Officer Marcus R. Escobedo, MPA. “Even at this early stage in their education, they understand what it will take for them to provide quality, patient-centered care throughout their careers. They are not only terrific spokespeople today, helping others realize the rewards of working with older adults. They also represent our hopes for the future as clinicians, educators, and researchers changing medicine for the better.”

Over the past 20 years, many MSTAR students have become geriatricians and train other students. But even those who go into other fields say the experience left them “sensitized
to the field” of geriatrics, Ms. Lederman says.

Almost 1,900 medical students have gone through the program, which is now jointly administered by AFAR and the NIA in what has proven to be a successful public-private partnership. In addition to the NIA funding, the MetLife Foundation has joined the Hartford Foundation as a major sponsor of the program. Other partners, including members of the Hartford Foundation Board of Trustees, the Jean and Louis Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., and the Lillian R. Gleitsman Foundation, make it possible for medical students to take advantage of the program.

Robin A. Barr, DPhil of the NIA says: “I love meeting the medical students at the annual meeting. It’s always great fun being with them and their interest in research is wonderful to see.”

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