Bob Sieglitz with his Model Ts
Mr. Bob Sieglitz at his Albuquerque home.

First-year medical student Devin Jelinek stands in a garage surrounded by three gorgeous Model Ts. It's not a typical day for this UNM student, but he's fine with that. Jelinek is part of the UNM Senior Mentor Program and he is visiting his mentor Mr. Bob Sieglitz at his Albuquerque home.

These are Sieglitz's Model Ts that he restored himself. The 98-year-old will tell you beyond that he hasn't done much else in his life, but he always says that with a sly grin after he's finished telling you one of his many fascinating stories.

This is what a visit is usually like between Jelinek and Sieglitz. Getting together, talking, telling stories. Learning from one another and gaining a deeper understanding of what each generation has gone through and will go through in the future.

They talk about the state of health care and how our nation is going to take care of its growing senior population. It's exactly the kind of open dialogue UNM had envisioned happening between students and seniors in the community when it first started the program eight years ago.

"The program is held outside of a clinical setting," said Lloryn Swan, coordinator for the Senior Mentor Program. "It's more of a psychosocial approach where the students and mentors can get to know each other beyond the clinic and learn about each other in addition to learning about health care needs for the elderly."

Surprisingly, there's a lack of geriatric medicine education in medical school curriculums nationwide. UNM's Division of Geriatrics, part of the Department of Internal Medicine, recognized this major need and jumped on the opportunity to start the program after receiving a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

Reynolds was a media entrepreneur who discovered in his later years that health care for the elderly was not where it should be in the U.S. He started the foundation to address many needs including the need to improve the quality of life of America's growing elderly population through better training of physicians in geriatrics.

"There is very little emphasis on older patients and education on how to care for the elderly which is important because as the baby boomers age there is going to be a huge need from that population," said Swan.

Jelinek said medical students are calling it the "senior tsunami," when all of the baby boomers will turn 65 and older. It's something medical students know they will be facing.

"In every single doctor specialty, except pediatrics, there will be a large population of geriatric patients," said Jelinek. "It's interesting that geriatric medicine isn't focused on more in the curriculum. So, this program is a great idea."

Sieglitz added that these programs are needed because people are living a lot longer these days.

"What do you think my life expectancy was when I was born in 1915? Under 50," said Sieglitz. "So, I've done pretty well. Do you know what the life expectancy of a female that is born today? Almost 99 years. So, what is the problem going to be with the medical profession? Geriatrics."

For Sieglitz to say that he's done well is a little modest. The man has done just about everything in his 98 years and is still keeping his passions and curiosities going today.

During Jelinek's visit, Sieglitz shared some wonderful little gems of wisdom that you would want to hold on to forever and live by just as he has because obviously it has worked for him. Here are some of Sieglitz's words of wisdom:

"I'll tell you what, this old earth we live on is a fabulous place and it's to be enjoyed."

"Well, I hate to say this, but I like people. Very seldom in my life had I had anyone I couldn't get along with."

"I never worry at night. At night, when I hit that pillow, I'm asleep within five minutes. It's so easy to do, but it takes practice."

"There are still a lot of things to enjoy in this world. I've taught square dancing, folk dancing, scuba diving, fly fishing. I like to keep busy. I still keep pretty busy."

More about the Senior Mentor Program

When the Senior Mentor Program started eight years ago, there were 12 students and 12 mentors who participated. Today, there are 50 students and 50 mentors each year in the program.

The program is voluntary and open to students in the school of medicine as well as students in the following programs who have a special interest in geriatrics: Physician Assistant, Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy.

First year students and their senior mentors meet at least three times between October and May to develop a social relationship and discuss assigned health-related topics. The meetings take place in the mentors' homes or other mutually agreed-upon locations, and normally last 1-2 hours each.

For more information on the Senior Mentor Program, contact Lloryn Swan at (505) 272-4837 or lswan@salud.unm.edu.