Medical Education Immersion Learning: Student Lives the Life of an Elder Nursing Home Resident
Introduction: At the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM), students have traditional lectures and case-based medical education plus geriatrics practicum to provide foundational learning on how to care for older adults. However, a medical student’s ability to both empathize with and understand the challenges faced by older adults living in nursing homes, in particular, is limited without first-hand experience. This case study research project required the student to be immersed in a nursing home to live as an older adult resident, complete with diagnoses and standard procedures of care, for an extended period of time to answer the question, “What is it like for me to live the life of an older resident?” This article presents one student doctor’s experiences.
Methods: Ethnographic/auto-biographic research designs were applied. A 23-year-old male osteopathic medical student was admitted into a nursing home for 10 days with a diagnosis. He was cared for by staff as a resident. Data were in journal format for pre-fieldwork, fieldwork, and post-fieldwork including subjective and objective reporting of observations, experiences, and resident encounters. Analyses included journal review and thematic categorization and coding through content analysis.
Results: Three significant themes were identified: (1) Adaptation; (2) Communication; and (3) Loss. Being immersed in a nursing home, the student experienced the losses and challenges faced by older nursing home residents as well as gained perspective on creating community. This process helped the student to identify skills for meaningful and empathic communication with older adults and engage in the nursing home community.
Conclusion: This experience imparted knowledge and challenged the student doctor’s attitudes about aging, loss, and the critical role of making meaningful connections in order to adapt to challenging circumstances. These insights provided an understanding of osteopathic care gained through immersion learning that is personcentered, comprehensive, and empathic.