Kerri McGonagle, RN, a staff nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), knows how to create unusual family milestones. “The first day of kindergarten for my youngest child was also my first day of nursing school,” she said. “We both had backpacks.”
McGonagle began at BWH as a unit secretary in the NICU, an experience that inspired her to go into nursing five years later. How did this mother of three children work nearly full time while undergoing the rigors of nursing studies? “The BWH doctors and nurses were really rooting for me. They were incredible, often taking time to explain concepts to me,” she said.
Recognizing the value of training and retaining an experienced staff, BWH has developed the Career Ladders Program to give patient care assistants (PCAs), unit associates and unit coordinators the guidance they need to increase their expertise or pursue other career opportunities in health care at BWH, including the transition to RN. The program-—a collaboration of the BWH Nursing Department, Bunker Hill Community College and the WorkSource Staffing Partnership—recently received a three-year grant from Fleet Bank.
“We work one on one with staff members, helping them to overcome any obstacles they may face and to define efficient processes,” said Judy Hayes, RN, MSN, director of Professional Practice, Quality and Staff Development at BWH. “For example, the program’s partner organizations can link people to financial aid sources, help identify family support services such as day care, or design a curriculum necessary to achieve each staff member’s goals.”
An RN in BWH’s NICU since 1992, McGonagle provides expert care to fragile infants, some weighing little more than a pound. She is also committed to help organize a year-round effort that brightens the holidays of the babies’ parents.
She and other night-shift NICU nurses prepare holiday cards imprinted with the babies’ footprints, which are sometimes only the size of a thumbnail. “Eight years ago, we started with Mother’s Day cards that said ‘World’s Greatest Mom’ and expanded from there, for example, Father’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and the Christmas-Hanukah season,” said McGonagle. “As the babies progress, their footprints grow from holiday to holiday, a measure of their success. The cards bring a sense of normalcy to the holidays of these courageous parents—and a lot of smiles.” She also helps to coordinate Santa’s annual visit to BWH’s NICU.
From accountant to lawyer to nurse
Robert Benvenuti, RN, who completed nursing school this year, is no stranger to career changes. He graduated from Boston College with a degree in accounting, which he pursued for six years. He then earned a law degree in New York, where he worked for several years as an estate lawyer.
But at age 39, family circumstances caused him to rethink his goals: “I came back home to Massachusetts to take care of my parents and brother during their final years of life. In the course of caring for them, and more recently my partner, I discovered some unexpected personal qualities and began to realize how much health care professionals are needed.”
In 1998, he took a job as a PCA at BWH while attending nursing classes at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where he received his RN degree in June 2000. “The nurses at BWH were wonderful during my studies. I could ask anyone a question and feel very confident in their answers.”
Benvenuti is now completing BWH’s New Graduate Program, a 12-week training course that links new nursing graduates with a preceptor and acquaints them with hospital protocols and policies. He works on a per diem basis in Hematology-Oncology and the bone marrow transplant unit on Tower 5 and will start a 36-hour position in January.
“What you learn as an PCA is very important, so learn as much as you can. Once you’ve become a nurse, at first it can be a little frightening— you no longer can say, ‘Go ask the nurse,’ but then you realize that health care is a team effort, and even the most seasoned nurses are always learning,” said Benvenuti.
Albanian nurse pursues U.S. credentials
The nursing career of Ermelina Taho- Prifti began in Albania, where for several years she served as a staff nurse in an orphanage. After the collapse of the communism in 1991, she and her husband spent a year in Italy and then sought political asylum in the United States. They eventually settled in the Boston area, where they have been immersed in learning a new culture.
For the past four years, this mother of two daughters, now age 9 and 14, has juggled home responsibilities while taking courses to transition to the U.S. system of nursing. To keep her nursing skills honed and to help support the family, she also has worked as a full-time PCA in BWH’s Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit.
On top of this, Taho-Prifti has been dealing with the mounds of paperwork necessary to become a U.S. citizen, which she and her family achieved last year. “It’s been difficult,” she said, “but it’s all so necessary.”
Her goal of becoming a nurse in America will soon be realized next fall when she will receive a degree from Quincy College and be eligible to take the boards. “I can hardly wait to obtain an RN position,” she said.
For more information about the Career Ladders Program at BWH, please contact Judy Hayes at (617) 732-8593.