In the summer between her two years of nursing school at Greenfield Community College, Russian native Olga Saykina wanted an experience that would enhance her education — not a break from it.
The program she chose, an ‘externship’ at Holyoke Medical Center (HMC), provided an intensive clinical experience that proved “invaluable” to her training, she said.
It also proved valuable to HMC, which hired Saykina as a registered nurse on the Medical Surgical Unit after she earned her degree.
“The hospital itself is just a nice environment to work in, and I was much more prepared for it having gone through the program,” Saykina said. And at a time when filling nursing vacancies can be a difficult proposition, that’s precisely the response the hospital is looking for.
Holyoke’s externship program was founded in the late 1980s to provide local nursing students with a state-of-the-art, hospital-based program offering hands-on experience, while encouraging them to consider a nursing career at HMC, according to Joyann Samson, the hospital’s manager of education and training.
Some 15 years later, such recruitment strategies are proving even more valuable.
“First and foremost, there’s a crisis in the United States in terms of nursing, and this huge shortage is only going to get worse as our population ages,” Samson said. “There’s also been a decrease in the number of people going into nursing because there are so many other options. We want young nurses to see what the hospital has to offer and come here to work.”
Money in the Bank
That goal became easier to reach thanks to $30,000 in new grants — $15,000 from the Hampden Savings Bank Foundation and $15,000 from Fleet Bank — recently awarded to the externship program.
With the additional funds, HMC plans to accept more students into the program, hire an additional educator, and invest in new technology, including a learning lab, simulation-center equipment, and computer software programs, Samson said.
“In our efforts to secure corporate support for the capital campaign, we discovered a number of companies that have shifted their charitable giving to programs rather than bricks and mortar,” added JoAnne Newman, the hospital’s director of development. “This is particularly true in the areas of workforce development and education. The externship program made a perfect fit for both.”
Robert Massey, president of the Hampden Savings Bank Foundation, recognized the value of the program and said there was little discussion about whether or not to award funds to HMC.
“We’re all very high on pitching education because we see the value of it in the long run,” Massey said. “Training more nurses provides better services at the hospital now and in the future, which in turn provides a better community. We recognize the need for encouraging individuals interested in the medical field, especially in the Holyoke area.”
Richard Zilewicz, regional president of FleetBoston Financial, expressed similar sentiments.
“FleetBoston has long believed in strengthening the communities in which we do business by supporting organizations and programs that promote economic opportunity, including employment training,” he explained.
“We view the student nursing extern program as an innovative way to provide training while attracting and retaining qualified staff to the hospital, which in turn supports the local economy. The hospital is an important partner, and the success of the region depends on its continued commitment.”
The program accepts 18 students annually from area schools, including Holyoke Community College, Greenfield Community College, UMass in Amherst, Springfield Technical Community College, Elms College in Chicopee, and American International College in Springfield. They work 32 hours per week and are paid for that time, Samson said.
Externships run during winter recess (three weeks for senior nursing students) and during the summer (seven weeks for junior nursing students). After successfully completing the program, students can work per diem as student externs throughout the year, she explained.
For Saykina, the program offered a clear win-win situation that not only benefited her own training, but ensured that her first job out of college would be in a place at which she already had a comfort level — a factor that, over time, promises to benefit HMC’s retention efforts and reduce its recruitment and training costs.
“I recommend the program to everybody who wants to improve their skill level and be more comfortable in a hospital environment,” Saykina said. “It was really beneficial, and I am so glad I did it.”
HMC continues to look for grant partners for the program. Companies seeking information on how they might be able to support nursing education programs should call the hospital’s Development Office at (413) 534-2579.