This story originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Brigham and Women's Magazine.
“When I graduated from the nursing program at Roxbury Community College [RCC] in 2013, I didn’t have the means to continue my education for a bachelor’s degree,” says Maria Iolanda Barreto, BSN, RN. “I got my license, but it was hard to find a job. Then, I got a call from RCC about a scholarship opportunity.”
The call changed the trajectory of Barreto’s career. In early 2014, she joined the first class of six nursing students in the new scholarship program co-presented by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and RCC. The program awards RCC nursing graduates $10,000 in tuition assistance for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and connects them with a BWH nurse mentor.
Barreto was matched with Caprie Bell, MSN, RN, recipient of the 2015 Excellence in Nursing Education/Teaching Award from the New England Regional Black Nurses Association.
“It is so important for nurses of multicultural backgrounds to have role models who share common experiences with them, and for BWH to commit to this,” Bell says.
A mentor and a friend
With weekly mentoring sessions, as well as monthly meetings on topics including interviewing and negotiating, the program helped Barreto and her colleagues grow academically, professionally, and personally.
“It was not just a mentor-mentee relationship—it was more like a friendship,” Barreto explains. “We’d text, talk, and go for breakfast. She was always there for me.”
“The program is powerful on so many levels,” Bell says. “I was enrolled in a master’s program and able to share my knowledge, and she was very supportive of me, too.”
With the multicultural population in the United States expected to increase to 57 percent by 2060, “it is important for our nursing workforce to reflect our patients,” says Joyce Johnson, MS, RN, a 25-year veteran of BWH and nurse director of the inpatient unit where Bell works. For example, Barreto speaks four languages, enabling her to connect with patients from a variety of cultures.
Bell and Johnson were both recruited to join the program by Patrice Nicholas, DNSc, MPH, RN, ANP, FAAN, director of Global Health and Academic Partnerships. Nicholas co-leads the program with Ellie Bergeron, MSN, RN, director of the Newly Licensed Nurse Program.
“Caprie’s passion as a mentor and Joyce’s guidance as a program leader at the monthly meetings have helped make the program a success,” Nicholas says.
Forging a new career
Thanks to the strength of the program, Barreto’s career took another step forward in early 2015.
When an opening for a clinical nurse position became available on Johnson's unit, she hired Barreto. To continue the mentoring relationship between Barreto and Bell, she assigned Bell as her preceptor, a nurse prepared to help new hires acclimate to the acute care environment at BWH.
“I was nervous because it was my first encounter in a hospital setting, but Caprie and all the staff supported me,” Barreto says. “I’m so happy here; it’s like being part of a family.”
In addition to Barreto, BWH hired three other nursing students from her scholarship class.
In September 2015, the hospital welcomed a new class, with Bell and Johnson continuing their program roles.
Mentorship and teaching are a core part of BWH’s nursing culture. The department hosts 1,300 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral students each year through partnerships with several area nursing schools. But the BWH/RCC program is unique in its approach and funding needs.
“Support for the first year came from Partners HealthCare, and a grant from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation is enabling us to continue with a second and third year,” says Nicholas.
Moved by her experience, Bell nominated the program for special recognition. The whole group, including the founder of the program, Jackie Somerville, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior vice president for Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer, received a Partners in Excellence Award.
“I see the Brigham as a giant in this community,” Bell says. “We are finding new ways to create the next generation of nurses and better serve patients of all cultures.”