Feature: Bringing comfort through connection

Forty Schulich Medicine students have found unexpected friendships with senior members of the local community during the past year. They have done so through the Student-Senior Isolation Prevention Program (SSIP) – an initiative promoting comfort, social connection and isolation prevention with seniors.

Established through the University of Toronto and the Family Health Team at the University Health Network Toronto Western Hospital, the program expanded to other medical schools at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry established its chapter in May 2020.

“We established the Western chapter so that we could address a very important issue in the older adult population, namely social isolation,” said Jia Yan Zhang, Medicine Class of 2023. “We know from statistics and from our experiences that older adults are particularly vulnerable to social isolation because of a number of factors and this has further been exacerbated by the COVID-19 quarantine.”

The program partners medical student volunteers with older adults in the community who have been referred by their own health care providers. Connecting by phone, friendships have flourished. And while many of the student volunteers became involved with a goal of helping community members to mitigate social isolation, they have established strong connections with their friends and personally benefitted from the calls themselves.

Six medical schools across Canada now have a SSIP Program, which became an official non-profit organization in the summer of 2020. The Program, which will continue post-pandemic, was a recipient of a $50,000 JOULE COVID-19 Innovation grant. It was the only student-led initiative recipient.

Reflections from Student Volunteers

Amanda Chapman, Medicine Class of 2023

Ruth Neumann, Medicine Class of 2023

Photograph of Ruth Newman“As medical students, there is a lot we can learn from the varied experiences of the older members in our community. Through the SIPP program, we have the privilege of stepping alongside these individuals at a time when many are feeling isolated. ‘Shaping Stories’ is one of the pillars of the Class of 2023’s mission statement. Being a part of the SIPP program has affirmed for me that a key component of shaping stories is taking the time to listen to the lived experiences of those we serve.”

Dirusha Moodley, Medicine Class of 2023

Photograph of Dirusha Moodley"Joining this program has been one of the highlights of my year. My friend is insightful, witty and an excellent conversationalist. I’m constantly inspired by her positive outlook and ability to find the beauty in life. I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to know her. We often talk about how nice it would be to meet in person. I look forward to the day that this is possible. "

Raman Kalaichandran, Medicine Class of 2021

Photograph of Raman Kalaichandra“My friend and I had another great conversation filled with laughs on both sides, including swapping anecdotes about our families, holiday season, and the adventures her family had. As usual, it was a pleasure to connect with my friend, and hear how they're doing as well as enjoying the banter and rapport unique to our dynamic.”

Jessica Chang, Medicine Class of 2022

Photograph of Jessica Chang“I first got involved with SIPP when I was in quarantine this past summer and thought the program would be a great opportunity for me to connect with my community and make a new friend. I must admit I was a little nervous about being awkward and not knowing what to say when making the first call to the senior. After reviewing the sample conversation topics that SIPP had provided, I dialed her number. The senior who picked up my call is a brilliant lady who has the most interesting stories. We didn’t end up going over any of the sample topics as our conversation started flowing naturally. Every week I learn something new from my new friend. Her travel stories are also very captivating. I am so lucky to learn about the world from her during these unusual times and I am hopeful that one day I will be able to experience these stories in person”

Student Volunteers

  • Nicole Wiebe
  • Raman Kalaichandran
  • Saffire Krance
  • Carly Alfano
  • Khadija Ahmed
  • Ayesha Kalim
  • Julia Petta
  • Ben DeKoven
  • Aly Balbaa
  • Priyanka Singh
  • Utbah Kazi
  • Amanda Chapman
  • Matthew Burke
  • Natasha Jeraj
  • Meaghan Doyle
  • Mitali Chaudhary
  • Tali Baird
  • Sarah Krause
  • Ruth Neumann
  • Sydney Brandt
  • Bronwyn Hersen
  • Jessica Chang
  • Khadija Ahmed
  • Jamila Skinner


  • Karina Liubchenko
  • Nancy Shi
  • Taranah Adli
  • Sarah Meulendyks
  • Jia Yan Zhang