Journal of Nursing Education

Syllabus Selections: Innovative Learning Activities Free

Engaging Students in Community Health Nursing Through the Film “My Sister's Keeper”

Lisa Shustack, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE

Currently, a shift is occurring in health care away from the acute care model to a community-based model of care. This movement toward community nursing will expand the job opportunities for RNs and task schools of nursing to adequately prepare graduates to function in these roles. Creating an engaging learning activity in the community health classroom can increase the student's ability to apply community health concepts to real-world situations, stimulate community health clinical reasoning, and inspire interest in the community health specialty. Through a constructivist learning approach, students will view the film, My Sister's Keeper (Cassavetes, 2009), allowing them to immerse themselves in a family coping with real-life struggles associated with childhood cancer. The purpose of this learning activity is to consider a patient's life after discharge and understand the role of a community health nurse in meeting the unmet physical and emotional needs of patients and families living in the community who are coping with chronic or terminal illness.

Teachable Moments

Students are directed to view the film through the lens of a community health nurse with a focus on needs assessment, using a faculty created needs assessment worksheet. The dialogue and scenes provide the student (home health nurse) with data to complete a needs assessment worksheet during the film. The worksheet includes areas for the student to document family members, roles, and relationships. The worksheet also provides areas where the students can take notes on their observations and thoughts throughout the film regarding home and community assessment, family assessment, and individual family member assessment.

Family Health

After viewing the film, students should be able to identify the characteristics of the family in the film, discuss models of care for families, and then apply the steps of the nursing process to individuals within the family and the family as a whole. Groups of three to five students will complete a genogram and ecomap for the family. Each group will identify the family's strengths and potential areas for intervention at the individual and family level. Students will share their findings with the class for open discussion.

Home Health and Hospice

Groups of three to five students will conduct online searches for local home care agencies. Students will explore services provided and the process used for making a referral and identify steps to ensure continuity of care following discharge from the hospital. Students will present their findings to the class for open discussion. Using role-play, students will take on the roles of the mother in the film and the hospice nurse. During the role-play, the hospice nurse will explain the benefits of hospice care and the services provided in a therapeutic manner. Following the activity, observing students are encouraged to offer constructive feedback and engage in open dialogue regarding the acceptance and use of hospice services. Student groups will explore the costs of home health care and explain payment for services. Students will also explore the costs associated with the option of self-payment for services and present their findings to the class for open discussion.


Creating learning activities that are engaging, relatable, and entertaining may help to bridge the gap between community health classroom learning and clinical practice. Using media such as motion pictures in the classroom, along with role-play and other engaging learning activities, captures student attention and enhances student learning. By doing so, students find the content relatable and can easily apply critical thinking and clinical reasoning to a variety of new and unfamiliar situations.

Lisa Shustack, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE
Misericordia University


  • Cassavetes, N. (Director). (2009). My sister's keeper [Film]. New Line Home Entertainment.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.


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