Place-based learning: med students in a nursing home

How fully do you immerse yourself in new skills?

The University of New England’s program in geriatric medicine gives students a “diagnosis” and places them in nursing homes.  The students spend two weeks living as they would with the symptoms and limitations of their condition.

Here’s 38-year-old Kristin Murphy, who said, “I said I want the full gamut [of treatment].  And I said that completely not knowing what I was getting in to….’Well, do you want a Hoyer lift?’  And I had said, sure.  I did not know what a Hoyer lift was.  I had no idea, none whatsoever.”

(I can’t seem to embed the video; click the image to view it on the New York Times site.)

Kristen Murphy learning about Hoyer lifts

Here’s the full article, which appeared in the August 24 New York Times.

I think the program is remarkable for what it demands of the medical students.  Doctors generally and specialists in particular are rarely on the receiving end of the full range of treatment that a patient experiences.

The two-week length of the “condition” provides time for a variety of experiences–the daily routine of eating, bathing, using the toilet.  There’s also at least the potential for the spirit-sapping dreariness of nursing home life: your personal space is limited to a bed, a dresser, a closet, a few shelves.  Your roomate, not chosen by you.  A television always on; a call-light signal pinging away endlessly; people younger than your grandchildren calling you by a nickname–or just “honey” or “dear.”

And twenty-four hours, after which the cycle starts again.

I’d like to know what happens when participants return from this experience.  How do they process what doesn’t happen? They don’t (and can’t) experience the full burden of pain and frailty. They don’t (and can’t) experience the full burden of medication.

It’s sobering to read that only 10 students have gone through this program…and more so to see that only about two-thirds of geriatric fellowship slots (required for certification) are filled.

One thought on “Place-based learning: med students in a nursing home

Comments are closed.