Skip Navigation and Go To Content

Masthead image

UTHealth Logo

Navigation and Search
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston student Rachel Obimah studying with mentor

A step in the right direction

UTHealth Houston reimagines geriatric education

Long before they set foot in McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, Rachel Obimah and Monica Cheng, MD, had something in common: They had early life experiences that inspired a passion for geriatric medicine. For Rachel, a job in the medical field always felt like a natural fit. She drew inspiration from her mother, a home health nurse who helped older patients live independently across the Greater Houston area.

“When I was five years old, my mother was teaching me about taking care of other people and the importance of compassion,” Rachel says. “I have been thinking about medicine for as long as I can remember, but I was never quite sure where to go with it until I learned about geriatrics and internal medicine.”

Monica had not really considered her future specialty until her grandfather became ill while she was in college. After shadowing several physicians to learn more about careers in health care, she went on to pursue her medical degree and residency at McGovern Medical School, where she has focused on learning to care for patients like her grandfather.

“I really started walking in the direction of geriatric medicine when I met some of the faculty at UTHealth Houston,” Monica says. “Their passion for helping older adults inspired me, and they encouraged me to participate in different learning opportunities so that I could experience every aspect of the field.”

Today, both women are gaining expertise in addressing the unique needs of older patients. With people living longer than ever before—and a growing shortage of physicians trained to care for older adults—Rachel and Monica embody UTHealth Houston’s commitment to improving Houston’s health.


Shortage of Geriatricians

The infographic depicts a graphical representation of the low percentage of practicing physicians who specialize in geriatrics.

Embedded text: Only 2% of practicing physicians in the United States qualify as geriatricians.

“McGovern Medical School is among those leading the way in advocating for better geriatric education,” says Rachel Jantea, MD, Director of Education at the UTHealth Houston Consortium on Aging. “We offer a required geriatric clerkship to ensure that every graduate gains experience, and we provide specialized clinical and research opportunities for students who want to learn more.”

Older adults have specific health needs that often differ from younger patients. From experiencing multiple chronic conditions to having limited mobility, their care requires advanced skills and knowledge to balance treatments, medications, and quality of life. Maintaining an older patient’s health and wellness over time can also take more than medicine—it can require attending to a variety of social and emotional needs as well.

A fourth-year medical student, Rachel is completing the concentration track in geriatric and palliative medicine as part of her medical degree. While the COVID-19 pandemic affected her third year of medical school, she gained valuable experience in a virtual environment through online lectures and activities.

“I like forming long-term relationships with patients,” she says. “I love their stories, their wisdom, and their humor. These experiences have given me a deep appreciation for the complex challenges that they can face.”

Monica, a third-year resident in internal medicine, aims to pursue a fellowship next year to gain advanced training in geriatrics. With a wealth of clinical and research experience, she hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of UTHealth Houston geriatric experts.

“The geriatrics faculty have been so supportive and encouraging of my journey in this field,” Monica says. “I feel very lucky and privileged to have been able to experience so much in geriatrics as both a medical student and a resident because of them.”

With the growing need for health professionals in Houston who can provide quality care for people as they age, scholarships and education funds help dedicated students like Monica and Rachel pursue their medical education at McGovern Medical School and learn about this vital field.

Since the Many Faces. One Mission. campaign launched, philanthropy is already making a difference for students and faculty who have a passion for geriatric medicine. Through a significant commitment to the geriatric program at UTHealth Houston, Joan and Stanford Alexander provided powerful support to help faculty and students continue to research and learn about the health needs of older adults. In recognition of their generosity, the division was renamed the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine.

“Philanthropy is absolutely essential for growing the pipeline of geriatric experts throughout Houston and beyond,” says Holly M. Holmes, MD, Director of the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine. “We are deeply grateful to donors like the Alexanders for helping to ensure that older patients in our communities receive the best possible care.”

Beyond the integration of geriatric medicine into the standard curriculum of McGovern Medical School, additional opportunities abound for students to explore the field and develop as emerging geriatric experts. Thanks to generous philanthropic support, initiatives like the House Call Program offer educational experiences while providing exceptional patient care across the Greater Houston area.

Through the House Call Program, which is operated by Harris Health System, UTHealth Houston physicians treat patients at their homes, coordinating care with a multidisciplinary team of providers to ensure every health need is met. McGovern Medical School students travel with the team, shadowing the experts and learning how to assist older adults in maintaining a healthy quality of life while they continue living at home.

“It was incredibly rewarding to meet with patients in their homes,” Rachel says. “We were able to address some of their challenging health issues while also identifying opportunities to improve their lives.”

“I had never experienced anything like the House Call Program before,” Monica says. “We really got to see how patients live and what barriers they may encounter when trying to access care.”

Additionally, programs like the Geriatric Interprofessional Education Program help students gain greater appreciation for the power of collaborative medical care when addressing the needs of older adults. The program brings together students from McGovern Medical School, Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston, and the social work programs at Texas Southern University and University of Houston-Downtown to discuss a geriatric patient’s case.

Working together in multidisciplinary teams, the students develop a comprehensive interprofessional care plan and convene with geriatrics faculty from each school to discuss their plan and the experience of working as part of a larger care team.

“This program shows our students how geriatricians work in real life. We engage with larger teams of social workers, nurses, therapists, and other professionals to treat our patients, and this experience teaches them how to succeed in that type of interprofessional environment,” Jantea says.

With the support of donors like the Alexanders and the Wyatt Ranches Foundation, the Geriatric Interprofessional Education Program successfully completed its pilot year in 2020. The experience was so successful that the program expanded in 2021 to include more students from Cizik School of Nursing as well as future dental health professionals from UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry.  

“Philanthropy has allowed us to develop a wealth of educational programs that enable us to reach other health professionals,” says Holmes. “As our programs continue to evolve, it will allow even more students to get involved in geriatric care.” 

Commitments from donors including the Alexanders; the Harry E. Bovay, Jr. Foundation; the Wyatt Ranches Foundation; Lynn Wyatt; and Nancy P. Guinee have also provided support for experts in geriatric and palliative medicine to conduct innovative research. From helping older adults age safely at home to developing more effective ways to address chronic diseases, this philanthropy makes a big impact on health across Houston. 

“The sky is the limit for geriatric research and education programs, and we need more of them,” Jantea says. “They lay the foundation for future geriatric experts to begin gaining expertise so that our families and friends can access expert care for generations to come.”

In loving memory of Carmel B. Dyer, MD

Among the many faces of UTHealth Houston who have worked to create new opportunities in geriatric and palliative medicine, the late Carmel Bitondo Dyer, MD, dedicated her career to training geriatricians and revolutionizing access to specialized care for older adults. Dyer joined McGovern Medical School in 2007 as the first Director of the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, setting the stage for tremendous growth in geriatric research, education, and clinical opportunities at UTHealth Houston. 

“Through her passion for her patients and her inspiring commitment to teaching others, Dr. Dyer influenced so many health care professionals to pursue a life’s work in geriatric medicine,” says Holmes. “Her impact can be seen through the expansion of our programs dedicated to healthy aging and the successful careers of her many mentees.” 

Dyer went on to found and lead the UTHealth Houston Consortium on Aging, inspiring collaboration among all six UTHealth Houston schools. Exemplifying her extraordinary gift for bringing people together to work on behalf of older patients, she helped grow membership to more than 200 professionals from various disciplines and community partners. She also served as the first medical director of UT Physicians Center for Healthy Aging, which provides comprehensive care tailored to the specific needs of older adults. 

In honor of Dyer’s deep commitment to her patients, students, and colleagues, Nancy P. Guinee made a lead gift to establish the Aging to Perfection Lecture Series in Memory of Carmel Bitondo Dyer, MD. The lectureship will commemorate Dyer’s extraordinary legacy by bringing luminaries of her caliber to UTHealth Houston to share their expertise in geriatric and palliative medicine, elder mistreatment, and home health care. 

“Dr. Dyer touched the lives of so many throughout her career,” Holmes says. “It is an honor and a privilege to continue her efforts championing the needs of older adults throughout our communities.”

Table of Contents ยป