Reynolds Foundation SAGE grants go to three faculty members

By Erin Prather Stafford

The Southwestern Aging and Geriatric Education (SAGE) program has awarded three $10,000 curriculum development grants to UT Southwestern faculty to improve physician training in geriatrics. The medical disciplines represented in the first round of grants are neurology, cell biology and obstetrics and gynecology.

The grants, part of a nearly $2 million award to UT Southwestern from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, will support up to three SAGE scholars annually for four years. Faculty members from specialties with an interest in geriatrics were asked to submit proposals to the SAGE leadership team.

Dr. Judith Head (left), Dr. Mike Singer and Dr. Mary Jane Pearson received funding to improve educational offerings in geriatrics.

“We were very excited about the faculty response to the Reynolds-SAGE program’s request for applications and the quality of the proposals received,” said Dr. Craig Rubin, director of the Mildred Wyatt and Ivor P. Wold Center for Geriatric Care and principal investigator of SAGE. “The projects accepted will add meaningful curricular content to medical education and will increase aging and geriatrics knowledge among all medical students and residents.”

The SAGE project of Dr. Mike Singer, assistant professor of neurology, focuses on the development of Web-based video tutorials about peripheral neuropathy, a disorder of the nerves of the arms and legs.

Peripheral neuropathy affects some 20 million Americans and most often strikes individuals who are middle age or older. Dr. Singer points out that decreased sensation in the feet can lead to falls.

“Despite being common and leading to potentially devastating consequences, peripheral neuropathy is often overlooked by doctors caring for seniors,” Dr. Singer said.

“As the number of elderly patients continues to grow, practitioners will be confronted by illnesses that were less often seen in the past because patients simply did not live as long,” he said. “I hope the tutorials will increase awareness about peripheral neuropathy and help viewers gain confidence in diagnosing it.”

Dr. Judith Head, associate professor of cell biology and obstetrics and gynecology, will use her SAGE grant to increase the exposure of medical students to aging-related information early in their curriculum. This will include adding tissue slides from elderly individuals for comparison with those from younger adults in the first-year histology course. Dr. Head will use images of the slides to design an online interactive tool to demonstrate normal aging-related changes that involve anatomy, biochemistry and physiology, as well as cell biology and histology.

“It is my hope this tool will develop into a resource useful to medical students in all years,” Dr. Head said. “Aging and the care of geriatric patients has long been neglected in the medical curriculum, so a concerted effort to change that is warranted.”

Dr. Mary Jane Pearson, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said that physicians in her field act as primary caregivers for women from adolescence to menopause. This being the case, she and Dr. Irwin Kerber, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, believe others in the field should be familiar with the detection and prevention of age-related disorders.

SAGE support will allow Drs. Pearson and Kerber to develop training modules for obstetrics and gynecology residents in ambulatory geriatric care of the gynecology patient. The modules would be compiled into an online curriculum to be completed by the resident as a self-paced, independent study.

“Dr. Kerber and I anticipate that this program can be utilized by other Ob/Gyn departments to improve their training in care of the geriatric patient, whether that is for medical students or residents,” Dr. Pearson said.

Dr. Rubin said SAGE grant applications continue to grow numerically and in specialties represented.

“We hope those faculty who were not successful this round, and others, will submit proposals in December for the three grants that will be offered next year,” he said.

Eisenberg Service

In addition to the curriculum development grants, funding from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation supports the Eisenberg Service, which created rotations in geriatrics for interns, medical students and residents.

Its purpose is to increase learners’ knowledge of geriatric core principles in the approach and treatment of the vulnerable older adult.

“When core geriatric principles are missing from rotations, it is the older adult who suffers the worse consequent outcome,” said Dr. Kathryn Eubank, assistant professor of internal medicine and director of the Eisenberg Service. “As our population continues to age, it is imperative that all future clinicians have a better understanding of how to care for this population. The Eisenberg Service addresses this need.”

The program is named in memory of Dr. Seymour Eisenberg, who died in 1999. Dr. Eisenberg was the first section chief in geriatrics at UT Southwestern. He became a faculty member in 1950 and was first holder of the Southland Financial Corporation Chair in Geriatrics.

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Dr. Craig Rubin holds the Margaret and Trammel Crow Chair in Alzheimer’s and Geriatric Research, the Seymour Eisenberg Distinguished Professorship in Geriatric Medicine and the Walsdorf Professorship in Geriatric Research.