Learning from Experience

Photo of Nancy Moen and Chuck Velte visiting with MU School of Medicine students Parker Russell and Abigale Berry.
Nancy Moen and Chuck Velte visit with first-year MU School of Medicine students Parker Russell and Abigale Berry. The STEP Program matches students with seniors in the community, allowing students to learn about issues important to older adults.

Medical students are learning about issues important to older adults thanks to a program at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

The Heyssel Senior Teacher Educator Partnership (STEP) Program at the MU School of Medicine matches first-year medical students with seniors in the community. Throughout a yearlong partnership, the students and seniors meet monthly to engage in a variety of activities. These interactions, and the knowledge they provide, will allow students to become better physicians in the future. 

Chuck Velte, 73, and Nancy Moen, 73, of Columbia, have participated in the STEP Program for three years. This year, the couple has two student partners, Abigale Berry and Parker Russell. 

Berry, 25, is a first-year medical student from Farmington, Missouri, who signed up for STEP because she wanted to interact with seniors and learn more about issues affecting them. What she didn’t anticipate, however, was how much she’d enjoy spending time with Velte and Moen.

“They treat us like family even though we haven’t known them very long,” Berry says. “I already know their grandkids’ names, their kids’ names and what they do on vacations. I kind of feel like I have a family here in the midst of this crazy med school time when I can’t see my own family that much.”

Moen and Velte agree the relationships with their students are special. 

“You’re not their parents, but you’re kind of like stepparents at times,” Velte says. “There’s a different friendship with the students that is very interesting.”

Friendships between students and partners are common, and so is participation in the program. Seventy-one out of 104 first-year medical students are participating in the program this year, along with 98 senior partners. 

When it comes to building relationships, Moen says the face-to-face interactions between STEP partners and students are important, especially when technology is a main communication method for many young adults.

“We can tell the students about the things that went so right in our recent and past medical exams and the things that could have been improved,” Moen says. “We tell this to our students so that they can use it as information when they’re having patient-doctor relationships.”

Berry says the feedback she receives from Moen and Velte is vital to her medical training.

“We learn so much from STEP partners,” Berry says. “We’re the future of medicine, and they’re impacting this by spending time sharing their experiences.”

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