Mary Ersek, PhD, RN, FPCN
As an ICU and oncology nurse early in her career, Mary Ersek saw the need for better palliative and end-of-life care firsthand. When Dr. Ersek began conducting research, she realized that people living in nursing homes who have dementia were especially in need of palliative care.
“I am committed to enhancing the quality of care for persons with serious illness, especially older adults who are cared for in nursing homes and veterans.”
- PhD , University of Washington, 1991
- MN, University of Washington, 1987
- BS, Georgetown University, 1980
Dr. 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, and in Europe, Japan, and Korea. Dr. 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 is 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 performance measurement in VA and non-VA settings, and presents these analyses at national meetings and publishes them in peer-reviewed journal articles.
Currently, Dr. Ersek is principal investigator of a 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 also is leading another research team to test a pain intensity measure for people with advanced dementia who are unable to self-report.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
Students are often team members on Dr. Ersek’s quality improvement and research projects. She encourages them to publish as co-authors or lead authors and to present their research at national meetings. Dr. Ersek mentors early-stage investigators from several disciplines, including nursing, medicine, health services research, and psychology. She is also the coordinator of the Palliative Care Minor at Penn Nursing.
Selected Career Highlights
- Member, Expert Panel on Advanced Dementia, Institute of Medicine (now called Health and Medicine Division)
- Chair, National Nursing Research Field Advisory Committee, Veterans Health Administration
- Chair and member, several Veterans Administration and NIH grant review committees
- Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Palliative Medicine
- Author, “Transforming Nursing Home Care” opinion article, New York Times
Kutney-Lee, A., Carpenter, J.G., Smith, D., Thorpe, J.M., Tudose, A., & Ersek, M. (2018) Case-mix adjustment of the Bereaved Family Survey. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, published online 1/1/2018, (PMID: 29325440). doi:10.1177/1049909117752669
Bowen, M.E., Rowe, M., Ersek, M., Ibrahim, S., & Shea, A. (2017). The physical and cognitive performance test for residents in assisted living facilities. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, published online 5/8/2017, (PMID: 28481408). 10.1111/jgs.14932
Carpenter, J.G., McDarby, M., Smith, D., Johnson, M., Thorpe, J., & Ersek, M. (2017). Associations between timing of palliative care consults and family evaluation of care for veterans who die in a hospice/palliative care unit. Journal of Palliative Medicine, published online 5/4/2017, (PMID: 28471732. 10.1089/jpm.2016.0477
Carpenter, J.G., Berry, P.H., & Ersek, M. (2017). Nursing home care trajectories for older adults following in-hospital palliative care consultation. Geriatric Nursing, published online 4/27/2017, (PMID: 28457493). 10.1016/j.gerinurse.2017.03.016
Kutney-Lee, A., Smith, D., Thorpe, J., Del Rosario, C., Ibrahim, S., & Ersek, M. (2017). Race/ethnicity and end-of-life care among veterans. Medical Care, 55(4), 324-351. (PMID: 27579913). 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000637
Ersek, M., Hickman, S.E., Thomas, A., Bernard, B., & Unroe, K.T. (2017). Stakeholder perspectives on the Optimizing Patient Transfers, Impacting Medical Quality, and Improving Symptoms: Transforming Institutional Care (OPTIMISTIC) Project. The Gerontologist, published online 10/17/2017, (PMID: 29045609). doi:10.1093/geront/gnx155
- Gidwani, R., Joyce, N., Kinosian, B., Faricy-Anderson, K., Levy, C., Miller, S.C., Ersek, M., et al. (2016). Gap between recommendations and practice of palliative care and hospice in cancer patients. Journal of Palliative Medicine, published online 5/26/2016, (PMID: 27228478).10.1089/jpm.2015.0514
Ersek, M., Neradilek, M.B., Herr, K., Jablonski, A., Polissar, N., & Du Pen, A. (2016). Pain management algorithms for implementing best practices in nursing homes: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, published online 2/17/2016, (PMID: 26897592).10.1016/j.jamda.2016.01.001
- Dy, S.M., Herr, K., Bernacki, R.E., Kamal, A.H., Walling, A.M., Ersek, M., & Norton, S.A. (2015). Methodological research priorities in palliative care and hospice quality measurement. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Published online 11/17/2015, (PMID: 26596877).10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2015.10.019
- Massimo, L., Powers, J.P., Evans, L.K., McMillan, C.T., Rascovsky, K., Eslinger, P., . . . Grossman, M. (2015). Apathy in frontotemporal degeneration: Neuroanatomical evidence of impaired goal-directed behavior. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Published online 11/10/2015, (PMID: 26617508).10.3389/fnhum.2015.00611