These are challenging times for our nation’s nurses. The strain of the pandemic, which led many older nurses to opt for early retirement, coupled with the expansion of practices like telehealth and outpatient care, have resulted in an unprecedented shortage in the U.S. nursing workforce. In the face of this challenge, Massachusetts General Hospital has launched a major recruitment effort — doubling its number of graduate nurse hires in just two years.
To help these graduate nurses develop the clinical skills and confidence they need to become independent clinical nurses, each new hire participates in a residency known as the Transition to Practice Program (TPP). This year-long, nationally accredited program consists of classes, group projects, simulations, mentoring and coaching — all designed to ensure that every new nurse can deliver care with the level of confidence and quality for which Mass General is known.
“Education is one of Mass General’s four pillars for a reason,” says Jennifer Curran, RN, DNP, NPD-BC, director of the Transition to Practice Program, who started her career as a graduate nurse at Mass General. “Education is one of the strongest drivers of excellence in patient care and improving patient experience overall — and that’s the ultimate goal of the TPP.”
To learn more about the program and this new generation of nurses, we spoke with three recent participants about their experience:
Topi: Confidence is Key
Topister “Topi” Bonyo, RN, BSN, MPH, always wanted to work in health care. The daughter of a nurse, Topi grew up in Kenya and moved to Ohio as a teenager. She studied biology at Kent State University, where she later earned a master’s in public health. After grad school, Topi moved to Boston to work as a research assistant — but soon found herself craving something more than the lab bench could offer.
“I needed hands-on, person-to-person interaction to really feel fulfilled, so I became a nurse — and from the start, it just felt right,” says Topi, who graduated from the TPP in 2022. During the training program, she formed a tight bond with her fellow graduate nurses. “That sense of community was so important,” Topi says. “To have a hard day and know you’re not alone — it gives you confidence.”
That confidence was key, says Topi, now a full-time registered nurse on Bigelow 7. “It’s important to know that graduate nurses have the knowledge and clinical skills — but it also can be stressful caring for patients when you’re just starting out. They need to learn to trust in themselves and their training — and the TPP was so great for that.”
Pascale: Natural Born Caretaker
“I’ve always been kind of a caretaker,” says Pascale Desir. Growing up in Boston, Pascale would often care for her father, who struggled with diabetes. “He’d let me poke him for his finger sticks,” she says.
As a teenager, Pascale worked part time at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and saw firsthand the impact nurses have on patient care. Later, as a patient care associate at Mass General, she witnessed the heavy toll the COVID-19 pandemic had on nurses. “But there was never any question, this is what I wanted to do.”
Pascale, who graduates from the TPP in September, is training to be an oncology nurse on Lunder 9. “In oncology, patients are always returning for treatment, so you’re able to get to know them,” she says.
In February, Pascale experienced her first patient death. “It was so hard,” she says. “I’d had her up walking only a month or so before.” With the help of her program mentor, Pascale came to understand how rare and special it is to be able to provide comfort in such moments. “To be there for her and her family at such a vulnerable moment, to help her transition in the most peaceful way possible … it’s an experience I’ll never forget,” she says.
Liya: A Specialist at Heart
As a nursing student, Liya Woldemariam had a chance to explore a variety of specialties — but when she visited the cardiac unit, she knew she’d found her calling.
“Everything suddenly made sense,” says Liya. “It was so fast paced and exciting, and there was always something new to learn.”
After graduating from the MGH Institute of Health Professions, Liya became one of the first graduate nurses to follow a new cardiac-specific TPP track. The program, launched in March 2022, embeds participants in specialized cardiac units where they undergo intense, hands-on training and learn disease structures, anatomy, pharmacology and more from senior staff. Liya is now in her eighth month of training in the Ellison 10 Cardiac Medical Step-Down Unit.
“Our work is complex and challenging, and not everyone is cut out for it,” says Cris Regan RN, BSN, MHA, nurse director on Ellison 10. Ms. Regan, a 30-year veteran, says she has 100% confidence in the new nurses coming through the program. “The quality of our graduates is exceptional, and Liya is a perfect example. I hope she stays in cardiology at the bedside forever.”
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