Graduate Program


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Jacquelyn B. Frank


Developing gerontology professionals seek purpose for their careers which can become more evident through experiential learning opportunities with older adults (Vandsberger, & Wakefield, 2005). Older adults need caring professionals with true understanding of their needs and dedication to nurturing their physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. Empathy education through immersion learning is being used to increase awareness in developing professionals to help improve service to older adults in their care. Students, who participate in immersive learning opportunities, experience for themselves what an elder witnesses, lives and copes with on a daily basis.

An immersion learning course was developed for graduate students in the Midwestern United States to provide an opportunity for students to live as a frail older adult in a nursing home. The course provided both lecture and experiential learning opportunities for the graduate students enrolled.

The aim of this study was to explore how an immersion learning course, and lived experience as an older adult residing in a nursing home impacted graduate students' emotional empathy and perception of their purpose as a professional. This mixed design study used pre and post instruments, over 40 written student assignment documents, and verbal remarks from the post debriefing and focus group sessions, to examine emerging issues and experiences of the students. The responses indicated increased emotional empathy and clarity of purpose in the student's professional goals. The students actually felt what older adults feel and became their persona during the event thus learning what daily nursing home living actually is for older adults. The majority of the students reported the course did impact areas they would focus on in their professional practice.

Included in

Gerontology Commons