For 10 days in June, Kristen Murphy chose to live somewhere she and many others fear: a nursing home.
Ms. Murphy, who is in perfect health, had to learn the best way to navigate a wheelchair around her small room, endure the humiliation that comes with being helped in the bathroom, try to sleep through night checks and become attuned to the emotions of her fellow residents.
And Ms. Murphy, 38, had to explain to friends, family and fellow patients why she was there.
Ms. Murphy, a medical student at the University of New England in Biddeford, Me., who is interested in geriatric medicine, came to New York for a novel program that allowed her to experience life as a nursing home patient.
Students are given a "diagnosis" of an ailment and expected to live as someone with the condition does. They keep a daily journal chronicling their experiences and, in most cases, debunking their preconceived notions.
The program started in 2005 after a student approached Dr. Marilyn Gugliucci, the director of geriatrics education at the medical school. " 'Dr. G,' " she recalled the student saying, " 'I would like to learn how to speak with institutionalized elders.' What came out of my mouth was, 'Will you live in a nursing home for two weeks?' "
To Dr. Gugliucci's surprise, she found nursing homes in the region that were willing to participate and students who were willing to volunteer. No money is exchanged between the school and nursing homes, and the homes agree to treat students like regular patients.
"My motivation is really to have somebody from the inside tell us what it's like to be a resident," said Rita Morgan, administrator of the Sarah Neuman Center for Healthcare and Rehabilitation here, one of the four campuses of Jewish Home Lifecare.
"But she is really there to study herself, her own feelings about living in a nursing home," Ms. Morgan added, referring to Ms. Murphy.
Geriatric specialists hope the program and others like it help generate interest in the profession, one of the most underrepresented fields in medicine. Medical schools and residencies require little to no geriatric training, and many students are reluctant to get into the field because it is among the lowest paid in medicine.