The Brain Enrichment Program was started by an MD PhD student one year above me at BUSM named Katelyn Blackburn. She and her classmates Pamela Huang and Alexis Clay converted a hobby project she had during her years before medical school into a club at BUSM that would forward the same mission.
What we all observed was that assisted living homes were filled with residents who were still enjoying capable lives. They were former working, thriving members of our society who had simply become feeble enough to require some daily assistance. With that aging had come illness; they and their friends and peers had begun to experience medical disease and care.
At the same time, we found healthcare professionals who were less-than-ideal at sharing information about disease and therapy with their patients. We, the medical students, by and large shied away from trying to explain complex disease to the elderly because we felt we were not adequately prepared to do so.
So, a solution emerges: we can go to our patients where they live, and practice talking about the pathology and therapy we are fascinated by to the population it affects the most. We began a regular schedule of short talks with a consistent agenda: a brain warm-up of a few puzzles and critical thinking exercises, followed by a 30-45 minute interactive talk about a specific topic relating to brain science. The BEP has covered an enormous range of topics in its 5 years, ranging from the psychology of music and meditation to the science around concussions in the NFL to deep brain stimulation implant surgery and Naegleria fowleri infections.
We took advice from our audience about what topics to cover and how to improve our presentations. We implemented systems for regularly attending each other’s talks and methods for providing each other with comprehensive feedback so we could improve together. We expanded our presentations to a second site, doubled their frequency at both, and expanded our roster of medical students. We began creating a package to help other medical schools found satellite clubs like ours.
And we provided a platform for fellow students to practice talking about scary things – the foundation of the doctor-patient relationship and the core of what we are training to do.