Archive for September, 2010

Medical Students Learn what it is like to be a Resident in a Long-term Care Facility … by becoming a Resident! The Learning by Living© Project

September 29, 2010

Empathy in healthcare is all about understanding what it is like to be “in the shoes of “ a patient / resident.  Medical students at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine learn what it is like to be a resident in a long-term care facility by becoming a resident!

The Learning by Living© Project is the brainchild of Dr. Marilyn R. Gugliucci, Director of Geriatric Education and Research at the College of Osteopathic Medicine.  In this innovative program, medical students are “admitted” into a long-term care facilities to “live the life” of a resident for two weeks.  Each student comes with a diagnosis and appropriate treatments. For example, if the student is admitted in a wheelchair, the student must stay in the wheelchair for every activity, including changing clothes and bathing.

Prior to the development of this project, students learned about long-term care via traditional methods (e.g., lectures and brief visits).  

In 2005, the first medical student was “admitted” into a Maine long-term care facility to live the life of a resident. Each summer since then, Dr Gugliucci has admitted students into long-term care facilities.  The students do not return home at the end of the day; the students live in the facility on a 24/7 basis.

Dr. Gugliucci maintains constant contact with students portraying an adult daughter of the student acting as a resident.  The students carefully document their experiences. The long-term care facilities provide a bed and meals at no cost.

The program has a 100% success rate!  Follow-up data reveal that students practice medicine differently because of their experience of living in a long-term care facility.  According to Dr. Gugliucci, students gain the following by having this experience:

  • Importance of physical touch, voice inflection, and word cadence when working with patients.
  • Enhancement of communication by being at eye level with the patient, whether they are in a bed, a wheelchair, or on a treatment table.
  • Communication with authenticity and sincerity, emphasizing the importance of being comfortable sharing with patients.
  • Connection with and treating the person rather than the diseases or frailties of the patient.

Currently, the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine is the only medical school in the country admitting students into long-term care facilities for extended periods to live the life of a resident. The plan is make this a nationwide project. The project is also applicable to nurses and other health profession students.

The Learning by Living© Project is being filmed for a documentary, due out in June 2011.

For more information about the Learning by Living© Project, please contact Dr. Marilyn R. Gugliucci at


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication.  The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction and decreasing the risk of medical errors. We offer high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Contact us today! or 1-800-677-3256