April 20, 2021

A call to companionship: Student helps seniors during pandemic

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Dismukes Vickers articleJonathan Dismukes with Selwyn Vickers, M.D. (taken prior to COVID-19)The School of Medicine’s identity is built on several values—integrity, diversity, inclusivity, excellence, and respect—just to name a few.

A key attribute that binds us together in unity is a willingness to serve and engage with our community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the generous and charitable characteristics of employees and students. Several individuals, departments, programs, and units have embodied the school’s values, choosing to give back to the UAB community—and Birmingham at-large—through volunteering, philanthropy, and outreach.

As we continue to walk through a global pandemic, the School of Medicine is highlighting individuals and groups throughout the year who are committed to service work around the southeast.

Our stories begin in National Volunteer Month in April—a time to reflect on the number of ways employees and students are seeking to help humanity.

Accommodating care for the elderly during COVID-19

Jonathan Dismukes, rising MS3 and MBA candidate, is a former co-director of the Senior Companionship Program (SCP) in the Office of Service Learning. He helped ramp-up the program over the past year, and pivoted to meet the needs of those the program serves.

“Traditionally, SOM students visit home-bound seniors in-person, but this quickly changed with COVID-19 and the implemented social distancing guidelines,” Dismukes explains.

The Senior Companionship Program pairs medical students with home-bound seniors from around the Birmingham community who are being served by the UAB House Calls team. Seniors who enroll benefit from monthly meetings, and include those who need compassionate and friendly relationships to combat loneliness and isolation, which are often exacerbated by the burden of disease.

Dismukes says that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors became extremely isolated and restricted from most, if not all, forms of social contact.

“Thankfully, SCP was able to transition to a phone calling method, enroll many more students who temporarily had an abundance of time on their hands, and meet the need of the UAB House Calls team in reaching out to their patients who desired casual and friendly conversation in the midst of the otherwise troubling times.”

Finding personal and professional fulfillment

On his volunteer work, he says he could not be more thankful for his time in leadership with the Student Companionship Program. “Not only have I spent time working with UAB SOM’s Office of Service Learning, but also with my peers as we grow as medical students and future physicians.”

Dismukes says the two seniors he had the privilege of forming relationships with have taught him a great deal. “I only hope that they enjoyed our time as much as I did. These opportunities to serve others are invaluable, both personally and professionally.”

He adds that his time as co-director taught him “the significant impact that personal relationships have on the health and well-being of all individuals, but especially those who struggle with chronic illness, limited mobility, and functional decline.”

“Despite the many adaptations required in the face of the pandemic, the value of communication has only become more recognizable as a tenet of the medical profession. These lessons will serve me well as I continue to work towards my goal of practicing as a physician.”

Looking ahead to SCP growth

Dismukes says he is looking forward to seeing the continued growth of the SCP under the two new co-directors, Ayaka Fujihashi and Jacob Megehee.

“Already, they have implemented a partnership with UAB’s ‘Students Helping At-Risk Patients’ program in identifying eligible individuals who can benefit from a continued relationship with UAB medical students. As SCP was designed to serve the patients of the UAB House Calls program, I know that it will continue its success in fulfilling this role for the betterment of its seniors, students, and the Birmingham community.”

 The School of Medicine wants to hear from you

If you have a department, program, or individual testimony about volunteering, reach out to Mary Ashley Canevaro for your story to be considered. At the School of Medicine, we want to share your experiences on outreach, community engagement, and other forms of volunteerism.