Diversity Mentorship Fosters Connections
Camille SANABRIA’S introduction to BWH Nursing was an experience she’ll never forget—one that strengthened her belief in the power of a nurse to set patients at ease and care for them physically and emotionally. Sanabria’s experience was guided by her mentor, Julio Toro, RN, BSN, who helped her develop basic skills while demonstrating how a nurse should connect with patients.
After completing BWH’s Diversity Mentorship program, Sanabria, a student in the nursing program at UMass Boston, was hired as a patient care assistant in Oncology. This month, she begins her nursing career at BWH on 6B Oncology. “Julio is a coach. He helped me to achieve the goals I set for myself that summer,” Sanabria said. “Because of that experience, I love nursing even more.”
Recruiting and retaining top nursing talent is vital to BWH’s mission of providing excellent patient care, and the Diversity Mentorship Program is one avenue for BWH to attract the best and brightest in the field. Mentors like Toro, a skilled nurse in the Oncology Float Pool, play a major role in the success of the program, which pairs promising minority students with BWH nurse volunteers for a three-month learning experience.
“Julio is the epitome of a mentor,” Miriam Walsh, a former BWH nurse manager, said at a December award ceremony honoring Toro, who received the Miriam Walsh Diversity Mentorship Award for his outstanding work in teaching and creating a memorable experience for his students, both of whom now work at BWH.
Toro’s former students are in good company at BWH; nearly half of the program’s students have been hired since its inception in 1996. “This is BWH at its best and BWH Nursing at its best,” said Mairead Hickey, RN, PhD, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of Patient Care Services. “These seeds and pearls of mentorship are spreading throughout our organization.”
Toro is impressed with the students, who are at the top of their class, and he is eager to bring them on board at BWH. “The pool of minority applicants is small,” he said. “With the current shortage in nursing, we need to recruit and retain new talent.”
In turn, Toro’s students are impressed with their mentor, whom they view as a skilled nurse with a great sense of humor and a gift in connecting with patients.
“He always finds something to talk to his patients about that forms a connection,” Sanabria said. “They’re his patients, but for the days he’s caring for them, they’re also his friends.”
Sanabria noticed Toro’s unique connections with his patients while she was in the program. As she took the vital signs of a patient who recently had a cancer relapse, the patient seemed depressed. Sanabria told Toro, who was about to check on the patient. “Julio couldn’t change the situation, but he helped the patient be more peaceful with himself that day just by talking to him,” she said.
Toro has been caring for BWH’s cancer patients since 2000, when he came to BWH from New England Medical Center (NEMC). Now a father of three, Toro was born in Puerto Rico and came to Boston in 1984 to study biology at Harvard University. He began his career as a chemist, and didn’t consider nursing until he met his wife, a nurse at NEMC. Toro began his nursing career at NEMC in psychology before switching to oncology at NEMC, and ultimately joining BWH.
“I have felt welcome at Brigham and Women’s Hospital since day one,” Toro said after accepting the Miriam Walsh Diversity Mentorship Award. “It’s a wonderfully diverse place to work and I’m so thankful for that.”
Toro is committed to promoting a diverse nursing workforce at BWH through the program. “Sometimes a big place can feel unfriendly,” he said. “A diverse environment seems warmer to a minority candidate.”
Toro’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. He was recruited for a new PhD program being developed by UMass Boston and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Details are still in development for the 2007 program, but Toro believes he will be studying disparities in the delivery of cancer care.
It was the mentorship of Toro and other Oncology nurses who helped Sanabria achieve her goal of becoming a nurse that made her realize what BWH Nursing is all about. “The Brigham is a wonderful institution,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.”