Skip to main content

End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium Curriculum Gives CON Students Greater Understanding of Palliative Care


University of Utah’s College of Nursing (CON) has long been considered a center of excellence. The College is nationally ranked for many of its programs, including the Online Master of Science in Nursing Education Program, Nursing-Midwifery Program, Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program, and the Online Master of Science in Nursing Program. The CON continues to set a high standard for healthcare education with its addition of curriculum from End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC).

ELNEC is a national and international healthcare education initiative that provides graduate and undergraduate coursework focused on improving palliative care. ELNEC was established in 2000 by the City of Hope National Medical Center. Today, ELNEC is a collaborative effort supported by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

The ELNEC curriculum was first made available to University of Utah undergraduate nursing students in the fall semester of 2016 when Nanci McLeskey, DNP, MCG, MDiv, RN-BC, CHPN, FNGNA, launched a pilot of the ELNEC Undergraduate/New Graduate Curriculum as an optional course. Sixty-six percent of undergraduate nursing students completed the course the first year it launched.

“The first year was very successful,” said McLeskey, who is an associate professor in the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program (GIP) and in the undergraduate nursing program, and a trained facilitator for the ELNEC curriculum. “The students who completed the course during that first year came back to the CON faculty on their own and said, ‘it’s really important information and we have to have it in our curriculum.’”

Since then, the ELNEC Undergraduate/New Graduate Curriculum has been a required foundational nursing course for first year nursing students, taken in their first semester of the program.

“This course gives a really unique perspective on healthcare,” said Michael McCarthy, a first-year nursing student currently enrolled in the ELNEC course. “I think it’s really important for nursing students to learn about these topics so we can be prepared to give the best possible care to our patients, no matter what area of nursing we end up focusing on after graduation.”

The ELNEC curriculum consists of six online modules that cover different areas of palliative care: communication, pain management, symptom management, loss, grief and bereavement, and final hours of life.

McLeskey is not the only faculty member working to implement the ELNEC curriculum. Associate Professor (Clinical) Ann Butt has been another champion and driving force in getting the curriculum established, and finding it a home within the CON.

“We’ve worked hard to orchestrate the timing of the modules so each of the modules are aligned with similar topics students are learning about in their Foundations of Nursing course,” said McLeskey.

And even though the modules are online, McLeskey and Butt have created a system to ensure that students are able to discuss key takeaways and debrief at the end of each module. Additionally, after completing the last module, Final Hours of Life, the students have a Sim Lab experience where they are able to apply what they have learned in ELNEC.

“I can’t imagine giving this information to anyone without being able to have some kind of dialogue with them,” said McLeskey. “After each module, I spend some time with the students, talking about the objectives they should come away with. It’s been really great. They are very engaged, involved, and they are really learning this important information.”

The ELNEC course has been made available at no cost to students in the CON over the last couple of years, thanks to the Utah Geriatric Education Consortium which is supported by a Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program from the Health Resources and Services Agency (HRSA).

McLeskey and Butt’s hard work is not going unnoticed. McLeskey has met with other nursing schools across the country to advise and give input on how to successfully integrate the ELNEC curriculum into existing course loads.

McLeskey’s passion for working and interacting with older adults started at an early age. “Growing up my grandmother was one of my best friends,” said McLeskey. “She loved taking me to her church, and we would have lunch and then visit with her 80-year-old friends. I loved being with her, and I didn’t realize until I was older that it wasn’t the norm to hang out with your grandmother all the time.”

Prior to joining the University of Utah in 2012, McLeskey worked 20+ years as an intensive care unit and medical-surgical nurse. She’s also been an Alzheimer’s director in an assisted living facility and has worked a nurse educator in both long-term care and in the U Health Geriatrics Division. 
Although McLeskey’s passion for palliative care comes from her experience in working with older adults, palliative care is important for all patient groups—no matter their age.

“Most of these nursing students aren’t going to end up being hospice or home health nurses,” said McLeskey. “But the ELNEC content transitions to whatever setting these future nurses are going to be working in. How do you talk about difficult things with patients and families? How do you communicate better? There’s pain and suffering—no matter the age of your patients—so all of these skills are important for nursing students to learn, even if they don’t end up working in hospice.”

Lynn F. Reinke, PhD, ARNP, FAAN, FPCN, shares this same passion for palliative care. Reinke was recently appointed as the inaugural Claire Dumke Ryberg, RN, Presidential Endowed Chair in End-of-Life/Palliative Care at the CON.

The ELNEC curriculum is an important piece of Reinke’s vision, to build a center of excellence within the college of nursing focused on palliative and end of life care.

“Palliative care is for any patient living with a serious illness,” said Reinke. “It focuses on relieving symptoms, improving quality of life, addressing spiritual distress, social needs and most importantly ensures that the care the patients receive aligns with their goals and what’s important to them in their lives.”

Oftentimes palliative care is confused with hospice care. However, hospice is for patients with an estimated life expectancy of six months of less.

“It’s very common to confuse the two as they are related, but we really like to emphasize that palliative care can be very beneficial to anyone who has a serious illness, no matter their age or life situation,” said Reinke. “And thanks to the efforts of Nanci and her colleagues, the College will continue to set an exemplary standard for healthcare education with the amazing resources we have to offer our students.”