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Ersek Selected for Induction to the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame

Penn Nursing’s Mary Ersek, PhD, RN, FPCN, the Killebrew-Censits Chair in Undergraduate Education and Professor of Palliative Care, will be honored by Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) for her contributions to the nursing profession during the 30th International Nursing Research Congress in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in July.

“This is award is indeed a great honor. I am particularly grateful to my colleagues at the Penn School of Nursing, University of Washington, and City of Hope National Medical Center for leading and contributing to my nomination,” said Ersek. “I hope all nurses—researchers, clinicians, and educators—feel a sense of collective pride when thinking about the huge impact that we have on the lives of patients and their families around the world.”

Ersek develops and disseminates best practices to improve palliative and end-of-life care for people living in nursing homes and, more recently, for veterans. With NIH funding, she developed a palliative care curriculum for nurses and nursing assistants in nursing homes that was the foundation for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s End-of-Life Nursing Education (ELNEC) Consortium – Geriatric curriculum.  ELNEC – Geriatric has been disseminated across the United States as well as Europe, Japan, and Korea. Ersek also tests novel interventions to improve the quality of palliative care in nursing homes and other settings through a program of research funded by the NIH, private foundations, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“Dr. Ersek’s induction into the Hall of Fame is befitting of her career as a nurse researcher. She is internationally respected for her expertise in pain and palliative care in older adults, and for her important research in improving the care of our country’s aging veterans,” said Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel. “She has an impressive record of funding from the NIH, the VA, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Because of her exceptional contributions in palliative care and the health of veterans, she has been invited to serve on numerous expert panels, committees, and boards on dementia, palliative care, and veterans’ health, making her a sought after expert on these issues. All of Penn Nursing is so proud of her work and we congratulate her for achieving this important career milestone.”

Ersek is the former director of a national VA quality improvement program, which administers surveys to bereaved family members who are asked to rate the care received by veterans in the last month of life. The team disseminates survey results to guide quality improvement efforts in VA medical centers across the country. Through secondary analyses, the team also informs clinical care and guides performance measurement in VA and non-VA settings. Findings from these analyses are presented at Academy Health and national palliative care meetings and published in leading, peer-reviewed journals.

Currently, Ersek is co-principal investigator of a 5-year, VA-funded project to improve the care of veterans with advanced dementia who reside in long-term care facilities. The approach is to form staff-family partnerships to facilitate discussions about daily care and decisions for life-sustaining treatments that honor the veteran’s dignity.  She recently completed another VA-funded study to develop and test a pain intensity measure for people with advanced dementia who are unable to self-report.