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Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion

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Mary Ersek, PhD, RN, FAAN, FPCN

Picture of Mary T. Ersek

CHERP COIN Investigator

Professor of Palliative Care University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Killebrew-Censits Chair in Undergraduate Education


Dr. Ersek's research is focused on pain and palliative care in older adults, with an emphasis on residents of nursing homes. As Director of the National VA PROMISE Center, she oversees a large team that collects data on the processes and outcomes of palliative care in every VA inpatient facility. She is also a Co-Principal Investigator of a VA HSR&D Merit Review Award study to develop a pain intensity measurement strategy for persons with dementia and limited ability to self-report pain. In 2009, Dr. Ersek received the Distinguished Researcher Award from the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.

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.

Research Areas
Distinguished Researcher Award