Intercalating in Gerontology at SSHM: A medical student’s perspective

The author of this blog-post is Sebastian Zaidman, Gerontology iBSc student at King’s in 2014/15.

My grandmother was born in the East End of London in 1929 to Jewish immigrant parents. When I consider the affinity I have towards older people, this is rooted in the wonderful times I shared with my beloved grandmother and all that she taught me of life and growing old. Whilst at medical school, clinical interactions with older people in primary and secondary care strengthened this affinity, which culminated in my application to read Gerontology at Kings College London.

As a medical student at the University of Birmingham, I chose to intercalate externally at King’s College London as it is the only university in the country to offer a intercalation BSc in Gerontology. However, the allure of the West End, a stone’s throw from the Strand Campus, undoubtedly also contributed to my decision to leave the West Midlands for the year.

The intercalated BSc offered at the Institute of Gerontology offers medical students a unique opportunity to study ageing from multiple perspectives, including but not limited to, psychology, sociology, biology and social policy. In contrast to my medical degree, I enjoyed being able to focus more heavily on themes that I found particularly engaging in my reading, essay writing and exam preparation. My favourite topics included older people’s living arrangements and the role of the body in ageing from a sociological perspective. Moreover, the autonomy offered when choosing my research project topic made thesis preparation and write-up a joy.

The course is varied and well-structured with the additional benefit of clinical placements offered with leading Geriatricians at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust, in both hospital and community settings. These placements provided a practical context to better understand the often challenging concepts introduced in weekly lectures and supporting seminars (e.g. Frailty). A number of my preconceptions around ageing and definitions of ‘old’ were challenged and redefined by the thought-provoking seminars.

Lectures were shared with students on other Gerontology programmes, many of whom are physicians or other healthcare professionals. This was one of my favourite aspects of the course, as we all engaged in interesting discussions during and after lectures, offering unique perspectives based on our prior experiences. I revelled in the political and philosophical discussions, during which we shared disparate opinions and reached balanced conclusions on most occasions! Through these interactions and the clinical placements, the intercalated BSc offers an unparalleled networking opportunity.

The close knit academic staff in the department offer support and advice by the bucketful. During specific tutorials, we learnt to read and write critically and to deliver effective oral presentations – essential skills for our future careers as clinicians. Since completing our studies in the department, my fellow students and I have delivered an oral presentation at the annual conference of the British Society of Gerontology with the support of our tutor Professor Anthea Tinker, and we are currently preparing a journal publication submission.

I would like to thank the staff at the Institute of Gerontology, and in particular my personal tutor Professor Anthea Tinker, for supporting me during my hugely enjoyable intercalation year. I hope the Institute of Gerontology continues to go from strength to strength.

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