Early learners as health coaches for older adults preparing for surgery

Jennifer A. Kaplan, Zabecca Brinson, Rebecca Hofer, Patricia O'Sullivan, Anna Chang, Helen Horvath, George J. Chang, Emily Finlayson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background Few opportunities exist for early learners to engage in authentic roles on health care teams. In a geriatric optimization clinic for frail high-risk surgical patients, first-year medical and nurse practitioner students were integrated into an interprofessional team as health coaches. Materials and methods Frail surgical patients with planned operations were referred to a new preoperative optimization clinic to see a geriatrician, occupational, and physical therapists and a nutritionist. A curriculum for health coaching by early learners was developed, implemented, and evaluated in this clinic. Students attended the clinic visit with their patient, reviewed the interdisciplinary care plan, and called patients twice weekly preoperatively and weekly in the first month after discharge. Students logged all calls, completed patient satisfaction surveys 1 wk before surgery and participated in feedback sessions with team members and medical school faculty. Call success rate was calculated, and team communications were recorded and analyzed. Results Median call success rate was 69.2% and was lowest among medical students (P = 0.004). Students and research assistants contacted or facilitated patient contact with their medical team 84 times. Overall, patients were extremely satisfied with the health coach experience, felt better prepared for surgery, and would recommend the program to others. Conclusions Early medical and nurse practitioner students can serve the important function of health coaches for frail patients preparing for surgery. Motivated students benefited from a unique longitudinal experience and gained skills in communication and care coordination. Not all students demonstrated capacity to engage in health coaching this early in their education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-190
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Pamela Derish from the UCSF Department of Surgery for editing this article. This publication was made possible by a 1-year UCSF Academy of Medical Educators Innovations Funding grant. This project was also made possible through the UCSF Program in Interprofessional Education, the UCSF Library & Center for Knowledge Management, and Tideswell at UCSF, which supports innovations to advance community-centered care for the aging.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Inc.


  • Frail older adult
  • Interprofessional relations
  • Patient satisfaction
  • Preoperative care
  • Undergraduate medical education
  • Workplace


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