Parkinson’s Partners: Introducing Medical Students to Parkinson’s disease

As all of you know very well, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a complex disorder that affects so many parts of a person’s life. In order for physicians to fully understand the impact the disease has on people with PD, it is not enough to learn the science and medicine of the condition. But how is it possible to teach a physician what it feels like to have PD?
One program that attempts to do just that, was pioneered at University of Louisville School of Medicine in Louisville, KY and adapted at Boston University (BU) School of Medicine. Parkinson’s Partners is a program in which first year medical students are paired with people with PD for a semester full of activities.
The goal of the program is to expose physicians-in-training to the “person behind the disease”, while engaging in activities that are therapeutic for people with PD. APDA has a long-standing and strong partnership with BU and we’re proud of their commitment to the PD community.
About Parkinson’s Partners
At BU, student leaders guided by the BU Movement Disorders faculty, recruit first year students who have not yet had clinical experience, and pair them up with PD patients of the BU Movement Disorders clinic. The student leaders plan and implement regular activities throughout the year that allow the student and the person with PD to form a mutually beneficial relationship. Since its inception in 2017, the students and faculty have also collected data and information on the program and on lessons learned.
BU School of Medicine has many close ties with APDA. One of APDA’s Information and Referral Centers is housed at BU, which worked in tandem with APDA’s Massachusetts Chapter. BU also houses an APDA Center for Advanced Research.
The Medical Director of BU’s Parkinsons disease and Movement Disorders center is Dr. Marie-Helene Saint-Hilaire, who is a long-standing member of APDA’s Scientific Advisory Board. BU also houses APDA’s National Rehabilitation Resource Center. APDA is therefore particularly proud of the Parkinson’s Partners BU initiative.
I spoke with Taylor Francoeur and Max Rosenthaler, two current 4th year medical students at BU who started the program in 2017, as well as Dr. Katelyn Bird, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Movement Disorders physician at BU who is the faculty advisor for the program. They shared their thoughts about the inception of the program and its value to the students of BU and to people with PD. Note: Some answers have been combined and edited for clarity.
How did you come up with the idea for Parkinson’s Partners?
Taylor and Max: We came up with this idea with help of Dr. Saint-Hilaire, one of the Movement Disorders faculty members at Boston University Medical Center. She asked if any students would be interested in developing a student partnership program for PD patients. She had heard of a program that was started at the University of Louisville and knew of the benefits it might provide for the PD population. We worked with her and Dr. Stephanie Bissonnette (who was a Movement Disorders fellow at the time and is now

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