Campus - 21.12.2017 - 00:00 

Cooperation with Spitex: Students are committed to helping the elderly

The course "Social commitment in theory and practice" has been held at the HSG for 10 years. It involves a social internship for students in cooperation with Spitex which is aimed to help older people in St.Gallen. By student reporter Tabea Stöckel.
Source: HSG Newsroom

21 December 2017. Ten years ago, a reporter from the St.Galler Tagblatt accompanied Spitex for one day and reported that the increasing commercialisation of the health service resulting in less and less time for social exchange. Dr Anna-Katharina Klöckner, lecturer at the University of St.Gallen, read this article and considered whether an internship for HSG students could help to compensate for the increasing isolation older people experience. She contacted Andrea Hornstein, Managing Director of Spitex East St. Gallen. Impressed by the idea, she made the cooperation conditional on the internship not being voluntary for students. The subsequently designed course initially met with resistance from the university, as there was no vehicle for such a module at the time. This did not discourage Ms Klöckner and Ms Hornstein and with the support of the former HSG President, Peter Gomez, the course "Social commitment in theory and practice" has now been successfully run for ten years.

Both students and older people benefit

Meanwhile, the course, which is designed for 14 students, is held every semester. After an introduction and a presentation by Spitex, the elderly people and students have a free hand in structuring the internship. The activities are geared towards the needs and capacities of the senior citizens and range from running errands, to learning to use the computer, and to lively discussions. Alternatively, students engage with patients suffering from dementia in the Spitex daycare centre "Notkerstübli". The project does not receive any third-party funding and the additional costs are covered by voluntary activities of the management and self-funding by Spitex. While the added value of this internship programme cannot be measured in figures, senior citizens demonstrate higher self-esteem through exchanges with young people. In return, the contact with older people helps to raise awareness of students for topics such as isolation, dementia and death in old age.

Raising awareness of social needs

The aim of the course is to make students aware of social needs and to deal with their own values. While Ms Klöckner, together with the former co-lecturer and study secretary, Hans-Ueli Bösch and Timon Beyes introduced ethical and sociological aspects to the course, she now focuses on the business management input with her leadership seminar expertise and stimulates reflexive skills of the students. As a result, aside from a term paper the examination requires a reflective contribution on visits to the senior citizens from the students. In the final discussion, students reflect on the past semester and share what moved them. All are visibly taken by their experiences, on a much more personal level than in other courses.

Course receives award as generations project

Students are required to invest at least 50 hours in their social commitment to successfully complete the course. Despite this considerable effort, the students view the course very favourably and consider it to be a valuable addition because it creates space for ethical debate. This was recognised by Migros Kulturprozent, which honoured the course as one of five generations projects in 2016. The internship has resulted in several bachelor's theses, including i.a. the project BeneWohnen, where seniors provide students with housing and the students, in return, spend time with them, as well as the online platforms Benedu and Volunty. Ms Hornstein and Ms Klöckner are pleased to see how their project has gained a foothold and how it enriched the range of courses offered by the University of St.Gallen by lending it a social aspect.

Tabea Stöckel studies International Affairs at the University of St.Gallen.