A group of dedicated BWH nurses are helping to make a lasting impact on patient care, nursing education and scholarship in Haiti through a unique mentorship program.
Every summer for the past five years, the BWH Nursing department has hosted cohorts of nurses from Haiti for four days, pairing them with BWH nurses on patient care floors, who serve as mentors. This initiative is part of the International Nurse Faculty Partnership called the Regis College Haiti Project, a collaboration between the Regis College School of Nursing, Science and Health Professions, Partners In Health (PIH), Haiti’s Ministry of Health, and Haiti’s State University that strives to improve access to quality health care in Haiti by addressing the acute nursing shortage and the call for advancement of nursing education.
The rigorous education and leadership program is offered to Haitian nursing faculty across Haiti, who enroll in the master’s of Nursing program at Regis and spend time in clinical settings as part of their learning experience. “Spending time in a clinical setting is absolutely essential to learning,” said Patrice Nicholas, DNSc, DHL (Hon.), MPH, MS, RN, ANP, FAAN, director of Global Health in the BWH Center for Nursing Excellence.
Each year in anticipation of the program, Michaelle Renard, RN, MSN, OCN, MT (ASCP), Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant clinical nurse educator on Tower 4BC/7C, in collaboration with Cherlie Magny-Normilus, FNP-C, MSN, RN, clinical research nurse practitioner in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care and assistant professor and director of policy and advocacy for the Regis College Haiti Project, and Nicholas review applications from the Haitian nurses enrolled in the Regis Master’s of Nursing program, matching each participant with a BWH nurse who speaks French or Haitian-Creole.
“To share a common language and background with a mentor is very helpful for nurses in the program as it enhances communication, engagement and learning while they are here,” said Nicholas.
The Need for Education
Cherlie Magny-Normilus, with the Regis College team, returned to her native Haiti in 2010 after an earthquake devastated the nation — reaffirming their 2007 need assessment findings of “teaching the teachers.”
“At that time, the country was in disarray, in need of emergent medical aid, and the nursing shortage was even more apparent,” recalled Magny-Normilus. “It was clear that the development of a sustainable educational system for nursing was critical to the country’s future through the teaching the teachers’ model.”
According to Nicholas and Magny-Normilus, most nursing professionals in Haiti have the equivalent of an associate’s degree, and specialized continuing education is not widely available. For this reason, Renard does her best to pair visiting nurses with a BWH nurse who works in the specialty of their choice — ob/gyn, oncology, OR — so they can have the best experience possible.
“We couldn’t do this without the BWH nurses who enthusiastically volunteer their time and often change their schedules to accommodate the visiting nurses and make sure they learn as much as they can while they are here,” said Renard.
Collaboration with the Health Care Team
During their time on patient care units at BWH, nurses in the program observe the flow of events, ask questions and engage in discussions with nurses in order to absorb as much new clinical knowledge and information as they can. They are also encouraged to speak to patients (with the help of their mentor, who serves a translator) and talk with physicians and other members of the care team.
Fostering this interaction is a key component of the mentorship program.
“In Haiti, health care is not as collaborative as it is in the U.S,” explained Renard. “Nurses are not always comfortable contributing their thoughts to discussions about patient care, but their voices are important because they often know the patient best.”
By empowering nurses to become comfortable voicing their opinions, the mentorship program helps them to advocate for their patients and bring the important nursing perspective to the team.
“We work alongside the nurses in the program to help them find their voice, and we support them as they bring this voice to their practice at home,” said Magny-Normilus.
Looking to the Future
The enrolled nurse faculty concurrently teach at their perspective schools while attending Regis classes, continuously sharing their new knowledge with their students. Upon graduating from the program, the nursing faculty continue to practice in Haiti and implement what they’ve learned. They also serve as professors and mentors to the next cohort of nurses enrolled in the program.
February 2014 marked a milestone for nursing education in Haiti in which, the first ever master’s in Nursing degree was awarded by Haiti’s State University to members of the first cohort. At the end of the program, Haiti will have a total of 38 master’s prepared nurses to continue educating Haiti’s practicing and future nurses.
With the leadership o f Jackie Somerville, PhD, RN, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of Patient Care Services at BWH and Nancy White Street, ScD, PNP, BC, associate professor and executive director of the International Nurse Faculty Partnership Initiative, the two institutions are working together to secure funding that will enable this cycle of knowledge sharing to continue for generations to come.
“The visiting nurses are always so grateful for their time at BWH and the knowledge that is shared, and we are equally thankful for the time we spend with them,” said Renard. “It’s so rewarding for us mentors, and we learn a great deal, too.”
Added Magny-Normilus: “This collaboration between BWH and Regis is effectively changing the future of nursing education in Haiti and will ensure that patients there receive better care. As a Haitian-American nurse, I am honored to be a part of that change.”