Pilot program is first of kind in Mass General Brigham system; Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program will be scaled if successful

When Claire Seguin came to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital as chief nursing officer, it didn’t take long for her to figure out she had a big problem. 

“I realized that recruiting on an island has a certain amount of challenges that are unique,” said Seguin, who is also Chief Operating Officer at the hospital. “I also realized that a large percentage of our nurses here were nearing retirement age, and there really wasn't a great succession plan in place.”

Then the pandemic hit, and nurses started to leave, like they did at most other hospitals. That amplified the hospital’s expensive reliance on travelling nurses, who today make up about a third of its nurses. Without an easy plan to fix it, it became obvious something had to change. So, Seguin approached Ken White, Dean for the School of Nursing at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, about the possibility of educating hospital employees who wanted to change careers and become nurses. 

“I thought it was a great idea,” said White, who began discussions with Seguin on the Mass General Brigham Chief Nursing Council they both sit on. “I told her it wouldn’t be easy, and it’s not – there are so many hurdles with accreditation, and we needed to make sure we’re compliant. But the IHP was committed to making this work.”

“Once he said that, I said ‘Well, you've got my attention,’” remembers Seguin, a 28-year veteran of the Mass General Brigham system. ‘‘I thought, ‘We'll work together and make it happen.’”

Woman stands in front of Martha's Vineyard Hospital
In an effort to stem the expensive reliance on travelling nurses, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer Claire Seguin approached the MGH Institute about educating hospital employees who wanted to change careers and become nurses.

Make it happen they did. Starting in January 2024, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the MGH Institute will embark on a pilot Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program that will allow six hospital employees to earn their nursing degrees. 

The IHP’s typical ABSN program allows anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any area of study to earn a nursing degree in one year.  However, the program coming to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) will be stretched out over two years to allow employees to work part-time while participating. As the cohort of six gather in a MVH classroom to join their IHP classmates via Zoom, an instructor will be in that MVH classroom to answer questions and help foster a sense of classroom belonging for this remote cohort. Clinical rotations will take place either at MVH or MGB hospitals in Boston. 

It's a new frontier for nurse development that hasn’t been attempted in the Mass General Brigham system before. 

“This is innovation at its best,” said an excited Seguin. “Nurses are innovators. I like to say my whole profession is really good at problem solving. So, we brought the problem to the table, worked really hard together to see if we could make it work and we got innovative along the way. I just know that the partnership is going to make a huge difference to the hospital and to the island.”

In an area where the workforce and housing are limited, the re-imagined nursing program allows MVH to develop nurses on the island, which not only helps stabilize hospital staffing, but also helps with retention, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars as a return on investment from this program.

“These are people who already live on the island and already know they can live on an island,” said Seguin, “and they have families and support networks around them.”

“Because they live on the island, they don't really have readily accessible education to become registered nurses,” said Rebecca Hill, Associate Dean of the Prelicensure Program. “We’re basically fostering home-grown nurses where they know the island, they know the people on the island, they know the culture. And then they can start taking care of people who live on the island.”

four women stand in front of Marthas Vineyard Hospital
(l to r) Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’ Rachel Vargas, Jennifer Dudley, Kelsey Moreis and Brittany Baron are part of a new pilot degree program with the MGH Institute that will allow hospital employees to earn their nursing degrees.

A continuum of care is one significant benefit, and so is the cost savings. Consider these data points from the 2023 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report

  • Average cost of turnover for one staff RN was $52,350 in 2022
  • Each percent change in RN turnover costs or saves average hospital $380,600 annually  
  • For every 20 travel RNs eliminated, hospital can save $3,140,000 on average
  • Every RN hired saves $157,000

“I think the impact for us is huge,” said Seguin, who has been at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for four years. “It's a return on investment in people and finances.”

The six nursing students looking to begin second careers have already begun taking prerequisite courses. 

“I’m excited to gain the experience and knowledge that only this program can offer,” said Kelsey Moreis, a medical receptionist at MVH.

Rachel Vargas, an executive assistant to Seguin and lifelong resident of Martha’s Vineyard, calls it a dream to be part of this first class. 

“It feels surreal that I will soon have the opportunity to care for my community,” said Vargas. “I’ve had the best journey at MVH that started at birth, continued through 18 years of pediatric care to volunteer shifts at our nursing and rehab center, a mentorship through inpatient units in high school, to my current role, and now future prospects. To provide care for the teachers, parents, friends, and island that raised you is such a gift.”

Jennifer Dudley is a process improvement analyst at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital who says she’s following a calling, one made possible by this nursing program’s flexibility. 

“Switching from a business background to nursing felt like something too far out of reach,” said Dudley, who came to MVH five years ago with the intention of eventually becoming a nurse. “ABSN programs such as the one we’re bringing to the island make it possible to become a nurse at any point in your career. In this model, the nontraditional journey makes sense and is worth pursuing. I’m excited to participate in the first cohort and be part of an innovative solution to our nursing shortage.”

Rali Ivanova was introduced to the OB/Gyn department when she was pregnant with her first child; the positive experience led her to become a medical assistant in the department. She says nursing is the next step in her clinical adventure. 

“I was very happy to find out that the ABSN program through MGH IHP will be offered at MVH,” said Ivanova, who has been working at MVH since 2014. “Travelling off the island for classes has been stopping me from taking that step earlier. This is an amazing opportunity, and I am very motivated to complete the program. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the MGB family and I appreciate all the amazing career opportunities that are available to the employees.”

If this pilot program is successful, the IHP has plans to scale it. 

Nantucket Cottage Hospital would be an option, and so would other areas of Cape Cod that are difficult to get to,” said Dean White. “Where are the rural, underserved communities in our region? Could they benefit from this? I would think so.” 

Seguin is optimistic any logistical hiccups will be ironed out and that every two years, six new nurses are added to her staff while six new students begin studying for a new career. 

“In my dream world, every two years we re-up our agreement with the IHP,” said Seguin. “We get six more nurses, then six more, then six more. And if we could make that number stretch to eight, I could probably do that. I think it's a great partnership. It's nice that we have an option that's so close to home.”

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