The dean of the MGH Institute’s School of Nursing has a new title with Massachusetts General Hospital. And the chief nurse at MGH is beginning a new role at the IHP. But neither are going anywhere. Instead, the new positions solidify a closer relationship between the school and the hospital that founded it 46 years ago.  

Dean Dr. Ken White is now the Associate Chief Nurse for Academic Affairs at MGH. In this role, he will work with MGH on the nursing students’ transition to practice – how to make it the most welcoming and successful experience possible.  

Dr. Debbie Burke is now the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs for the IHP, a role in which she will collaborate with White on what the hospital needs and expects from students.  

While the titles are new, they represent a collaborative continuation that began when White started as dean in July 2021.  

“Ever since I arrived, Debbie and I have been meeting on a regular basis,” said White. “We work together, we strategize, we talk about how we can how we can get more nurses placed in her hospital. She’s been a huge proponent of increasing those placements.”  

Burke, Chief Nursing Officer at MGH since 2018 and Senior Vice President of Patient Care, describes the relationship as “mutual sharing.”

“We’re sharing with Ken some of the additions to the curriculum that would help nursing students hit the ground running when they come to MGH, and Ken is giving us feedback on what he's hearing from students as to what would be a good experience at the hospital,” Burke said. “That kind of thing is really important.”  

Added White: “Debbie is committed to partnering with me and our students and to hire as many of them as possible.  We’re also working together on ways to incorporate best practices into our curriculum and our instruction. We’ve also worked with her on how MGH nurses, many of whom are IHP alumni and who serve as clinical instructors and preceptors for us, can receive additional academic support from programs that we offer in the school.”

Establishing a closer relationship between MGH and the School of Nursing was on White’s radar screen when he was interviewing for the job as dean.  

For Burke, a closer relationship with the IHP brings MGH a strengthened workforce pipeline. She would like to see a predictable number of graduates join the hospital annually.  

“Say we bring in 200 students a year for clinical placements, and let’s say 50 don’t want to take a job here because they want to live elsewhere in the country, we could count on 150 graduates every year,” said Burke. “I know I have to compete with my MGB colleagues from other hospitals, but at least we would be able to start to have this level of planning.”  

That’s music to White’s ears because getting IHP nurses placed within the MGB system is one of his top priorities. And he sees the shortage areas as opportunities IHP nursing graduates might be slotted in.  

“I know they're always looking for people for the ICU, Emergency Room, labor and delivery, and operating room,” said White. “There might be things that we can do to help – perhaps we start people earlier on specializing in these areas where MGH has the biggest need for new nurses”.  

Burke, who is now on the School of Nursing Dean’s Council and will join the SON’s new Advisory Board, says the strengthened relationship creates opportunities for cross fertilization to find initiatives the school and hospital can work on. Burke cites last year’s introduction of the part-time accelerated BSN program as an example.   

“Ken said, ‘Why don't we do a part time program? Because not everybody can do it full time, right?’ I love that because also it gets me thinking about people who might already work at MGH in another kind of role; they want to go and be a nurse, but they can't participate in a full-time program,” said Burke. “On my end, I think, ‘OK, how can I support that?’” 

Not only is the relationship mutually beneficially, but both say it sends a strong signal about the efficacy of the academic-clinical partnership.  

“This is what the partnership should look like between schools and hospitals,” said Burke. “None of us have had that before. We’re going to learn from each other as we go.”  

“It's more than symbolic - it's a powerful message that shows the world that we're working together,” said White. “In some ways, it's back to the original model that Mass General had in 1873 when it had its first diploma nursing school. It's a close interweaving of what are the needs of practice and what are the needs of education?” 

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