The Next Generation of Geriatricians
Stories from Geriatric Students
One of the primary goals of the RTO/ERO Foundation is to ensure that more post-secondary students are being inspired to make their career about research and care of older adults.
As part of the RTO/ERO Chair in Geriatric Medicine, Dr. Rochon is mentoring students in geriatrics and gerontology. There are some of their stories…
Our brains make us who we are. Our personalities, memories and lives depend on its proper functioning. My interest in neurodegenerative diseases began in my grade 12 year when I conducted research on Alzheimer’s disease. Afterward, I became engaged in research areas spanning neurosurgery technology to Parkinson’s disease. I gained an in-depth understanding of the biomedical premises of these conditions. But one big question remained — how did people actually experience these conditions? Thanks to the RTO, I had the opportunity to explore the real world experiences of older adults living with dementia as part of a project with Dr. Rochon. This different perspective has given my past work new meaning, and will inform the research I plan to pursue in the future. As a budding clinician-scientist, I hope to make meaningful contributions to the field of geriatrics, translating research to real benefits for those affected — from bench to beside and back.
Last year, I had the chance to complete a student internship in palliative care. After this experience, I applied for a position at Women’s College Hospital. My interest in healthy aging grew as I continued to learn about how the healthcare system is helping older adults maintain their quality of life. People are living longer than ever before. Diseases that did not have time to present themselves in the past, when lifespans were shorter, are presenting themselves now. Managing these diseases and helping individuals age gracefully is an intriguing challenge. I feel happy to know that my efforts are contributing towards solving this challenge. Right now, I am collaborating with another student to analyze the gaps in research surrounding drugs for dementia. As an aspiring doctor, the skills I am gaining in critical analysis will help me become a better health-care professional.
Throughout my life I have understood the importance of learning, largely due to my mother being a teacher in Ontario, and have enjoyed pursuing a Bachelor of Health Science at Western University and a Master of Science in Global Health at McMaster University. As an aspiring clinician-researcher, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity learn outside of the classroom by studying older adults under Dr. Rochon’s supervision. As a research assistant, I have explored how we can optimize medications for older adults, ensuring they only take the drugs they really need. I have also worked to ensure women are represented in research data. By helping with literature reviews, grant proposals, manuscripts and translating research into practice, I have gained valuable research skills. I look forward to using this knowledge as I begin medical school at McMaster University in September and throughout the rest of my career in medicine and research.
The Next Generation of Geriatric Researchers
An Interview with Post-Doctoral Fellow Lynn Zhu
What got you interested in the field of aging?
My grandparents have played a huge role in my life. Observing them and their friends made me want to learn more about aging. In grade 9, I volunteered in the geriatric ward of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton. It was a great experience that has started my career focus on geriatrics and gerontology going forward.
What is the area of research that you are most passionate about?
I have a special interest in public health, and helping older adults live in the community as long as possible. This has been a topic that I have explored throughout my education and work experience.
Why should we invest in aging research?
Aging is universal – we all go through it, so investing in aging research is really just investing in ourselves. Research is one of the best ways to improve our knowledge about how to age optimally. Aging is an underfunded and even overlooked area of public health research. So we still have a lot of work to do before we can answer how to best support individuals in post-retirement ages.
How has past training helped you?
My undergraduate degree is in Life Sciences from the University of Toronto. Through courses there, I learned about how aging changes many dimensions of a person's life –not just biological, but also emotional, financial, social, psychological, spiritual.
I focused on Health and Aging at Western University for my Master’s degree. I met with people who cared for a spouse at home, and researched how people made decisions about whether to continue in a caregiver role or seek long-term care for their loved ones. For example, men started to consider long-term care when their spouses needed help with personal care, like bathing or going to the washroom. Women, and people whose cultural beliefs about family caregiving is strong, tend to try to keep provide care at home regardless of the needs. This helps to address the different challenges faced by different spouse caregivers.
My most recent PhD training at Western is in a subspecialty of public health called epidemiology. It is the study of health and disease in large populations, and how to manage and provide services to address health and disease. I spent over 4 years visiting older adults with Parkinson’s disease in small towns and cities throughout southwestern Ontario. I discovered how new technologies like wearable GPS sensors could be better used to study older people’s mobility. I also gained important research skills and insights into some of the challenges facing different older Ontarians.
What is your goal in this post-doc position?
I am so grateful for this opportunity that is supported through the RTO/ERO Chair in Geriatric Medicine and the very special gift in will from Margaret Emmerson. With this opportunity, I will be able to access large provincial datasets to research ways to improve medication-prescribing practices. And most importantly, this opportunity gives me a chance to be mentored by Dr. Paula Rochon, a leading geriatrician and researcher. This is a valuable process as I transition to an independent research career.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I plan to stay in public health and aging, in a role that incorporates both direct interaction with the community as well as research.
Tell us something personal about yourself
I love to learn. Right now, I’m trying to improve my French skills and my long-board tricks (form of skateboarding). I was born in southeastern China and moved to Hamilton when I was 9 years old, then I moved to Toronto part way through high school. During my PhD studies, I was a competitive fencer.
Any last comments?
Yes, I want to thank the RTO/ERO members for this opportunity that allows me to meet people that I am studying, as well as accessing important data sets. Most of all, it is inspiring for me to work with a group who are so passionate about knowledge and giving back to others.