Providing health care for older adults with multiple medical conditions or advanced illness is a difficult and complex task, and UAB is responding with innovative education and training for its medical students, residents and faculty.

UAB will use a $2 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to create a geriatric educational training program for every UAB medical student and resident, plus many faculty and community physicians, to better prepare them to care for their older patients.

The program, called the Alabama Reynolds Program for Care of the Complex Older Adult (COCOA), will address five key areas for delivering high-quality care to older adults: advanced illness and multi-morbidity, transitions in care, family systems and self/caregiver management, cultural aspects of aging and health literacy and disparities.

 "COCOA will address recognized gaps in medical student, resident and community physician education in geriatrics," said Christine Ritchie, M.D., director of palliative and supportive care in the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. "Working with our Reynolds partners, we will build a comprehensive geriatric education program that will provide trainees and physicians the tools to serve their older patients better while navigating the increasing complexity often associated with aging. This program will blend important clinical principles from geriatrics and palliative care."

COCOA will use a variety of innovative resources and cutting-edge educational techniques, including virtual patients (actors with scripted conditions presenting as patients), Web-based materials and distance-learning.

Geriatrics will be integrated in the new medical school curriculum throughout all four years. Residents will receive enhanced geriatrics and advanced illness care content in five specialties and medicine residents will undertake a four-week geriatric rotation. Web-based geriatric education modules will be available for students, residents and practicing physicians.

 "COCOA will provide advance training in geriatric issues to all 875 medical students and 350 residents at UAB," said co-director Hughes Evans, M.D., professor of pediatrics and senior associate dean for academic affairs. "It will build upon our strong existing programs and geriatric faculty at this university."

UAB is the recipient of one of 10 grants totaling nearly $20 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation designed to strengthen physician's geriatric training across the United States.