JoAnne Reifsnyder professor of health services leadership and management at the University of Maryland School of Nursing

More than two years after relaunching a pilot of the “teaching nursing home” concept, researchers connected to the project are committed to expanding it and providing more long-term care exposure for early-career nurses.

“For a long time, nursing students have been sent to nursing homes usually for a fundamentals course, usually without a lot of preparation. It’s just really not a very lively or engaging experience for students,” said Joanne Reifsnyder, professor of health services leadership and management at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

The pilot sought to correct that by creating meaningful connections between nursing schools and four Pennsylvania nursing homes in their market. The focus was on developing meaningful, rather than rote, exposures, Reifsnyder said. That, she said, could be key to converting more nursing school candidates into permanent nursing home workers post-graduation.

“What we know nursing homes need more than anything is staff,” she told LeadingAge members on the association’s policy update call Wednesday. “One opportunity is to give students a clinical experience in a nursing home that engages them and excites them and shows what an incredible place it is to practice.”

That may be an opportunity nursing school faculty are unaware of if they haven’t been in an actual nursing home for many years.

“The most clinically complex adults a student could take care of are living in nursing homes,” Reifsnyder said. “They are of advanced age. They have multiple comorbidities. They have cognitive impairment. And we’re still all aiming to provide them the best day that they can have, the best possible quality of life. Where could you get a better experience doing clinical assessment?”

The “Pennsylvania Teaching Nursing Home” project launched in July 2021 through a partnership with the John A. Hartford Foundation; the Jewish Healthcare Foundation; its nonprofit operating arm Health Careers Futures; and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. The organizations pledged nearly $1 million in grants. Pennsylvania State University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh will also participate.

The program’s Curriculum Committee last fall worked with Reifsnyder and her co-authors to develop a textbook that could help influence similar teaching programs nationwide and offer structure for such programming.

According to the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, the initial two-year rollout in Pennsylvania involved 591 residents, 677 nursing home staff members and 510 nursing students. Its major aims included improving resident outcomes; enriching the clinical skills of nursing home staff; promoting retention; and enhancing nursing faculty and student knowledge of nursing home care.

Some of the programs’ core tenets were also spread statewide last year through the Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Learning Network, which invited the four nursing home partners to share their best practices with more than 200 other nursing homes.

Reifsnyder said that collaborators hope to expand the teaching nursing home model. Already, work on the program has led to the formation of the Moving Forward Nursing Home Quality Coalition following a National Academies report on the nation’s nursing homes. 

“The project I’m talking about and a companion book and other resources we’re going to be developing, including expansion of that teaching nursing home collaborative beyond Pennsylvania and into other states, is to create that excitement around caring for older adults,” she said.