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‘I Need to Be a Nurse’

Meghan Kalbaugh

Meghan Kalbaugh plans to progress toward her master’s degree while working full-time as a nurse.


Meghan Kalbaugh’s mother was a nurse who worked in emergency rooms and on patient floors at local medical centers, including Baystate, Mercy, and Holyoke. Her example was a quiet one.

“Surprisingly, we never really talked about it growing up,” said Kalbaugh, who graduated from American International College (AIC) this spring with a bachelor of science in nursing degree. “It was always just my mom; she was a nurse, and she would come home, and I didn’t really have it in my mind to be a nurse.”

But in high school, Kalbaugh participated in a healthcare-careers program, thinking she wanted to be a veterinarian. She eventually realized that wasn’t for her, but she stayed in the program because her parents convinced her to follow through and finish it.

“So, my last year, I became a CNA because the final year of the program is doing a CNA course that’s completely paid for because it was dual enrollment with Holyoke Community College,” she recalled. “Throughout the course, I fell in love with taking care of people and forming a really special bond with my patients. I came home one day, and out of the blue, I was like, ‘I need to be a nurse. I love this, and I want to further my education.’”

Kalbaugh’s original goal when she enrolled at AIC was pediatrics, and she still loves that work, but a labor and delivery rotation changed her mind, and that has become her preferred setting down the road. “But I’m actually starting my nurse residency at Baystate on July 24, and I’ll be in the heart and vascular unit, because labor and delivery wasn’t hiring new graduates. I figured going to a different unit will still provide me with valuable skills and experience. So I’m really excited; I’ll get some heart and vascular experience and then hopefully, within a year, move over to labor and delivery.”

The past four years weren’t easy for Kalbaugh and her classmates, she said, due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

“What draws me in is how rewarding it is, knowing I’m helping people and making an impact in their life and changing lives every day; I absolutely love that.”

“It was really, really hard doing it all online from home, especially not seeing the professors in person and not having lectures in person, and just being alone. The coursework was challenging, and that was a time when we all really needed each other, and we couldn’t be with each other. So it was hard, honestly, managing like the isolation from everyone. I’m a very social person, and I just wanted to be around my peers so we could help each other and talk about concepts and be able to like connect with our professors.”

That said, “I’m happy we got through it as a class and were able to come back in person. I was so relieved. I remember the day that they told us we could come back, and I was so excited. I thought, no more of this awful being alone.”

After all, Kalbaugh is, as she noted, a people person, and she values the connections she can make as a nurse.

“What draws me in is how rewarding it is, knowing I’m helping people and making an impact in their life and changing lives every day; I absolutely love that.”

That’s not the only draw for nurses these days. As hospitals and organizations struggle to fully staff and retain their nursing teams, career opportunities abound.

“Everyone is hiring, and they’re offering great incentives, sign-on bonuses, and there are lots of new positions opening,” Kalbaugh said. “There’s a lot of room for growth in healthcare, too, whether that’s climbing up to manager or supervisor or advancing your practice, like becoming a nurse practitioner. There’s a lot of room for growth.”

That’s why she’ll be back at AIC in the fall to start pursuing her master’s degree: to open up new avenues for career growth.

With a degree beyond the BSN, she noted, “you get to be an advanced-practice provider … and, obviously, there’s a better paycheck, and you have more autonomy. So I’m definitely going to keep going because I can see myself doing that, and I believe I have the capability.”

The three-year master’s program is fully online, except for clinical experiences, she explained, an ideal model for people who are actively working full-time or have children and families and other responsibilities.

“I like how it’s broken into one class at a time to make it more easily manageable for people who are working full-time like me,” she said. “So I’ll be working full-time at Baystate and doing this. My unit manager is pretty awesome; I told her I was going to keep going, and she seems like she’ll be very flexible with my schedule and hours, which is good.

“It’s a great way to keep people moving up and progressing as they learn because so much help is needed,” she added. “I mean, you need nurses working, but you can actually continue your education as well. That’s a cool model. And after my first year at Baystate, they’ll give me some tuition reimbursement as well, which is amazing.”

In short, Kalbaugh is a woman with a plan.

“I’m very excited, and also very nervous because it’s going to be a lot. But challenge hasn’t stopped me before, so I’m excited.”


—Joseph Bednar

Healthcare News

‘I Love the Profession’

Ashley Girouard

Ashley Girouard is gaining experience through Baystate’s SNAP program for new nurses.


To Ashley Girouard, seeing patients isn’t just treating them and sending them on their way. There’s a connection to be made in each encounter.

“I love making connections with my patients,” she said of her current work in an orthopedic unit at Baystate Medical Center. “A lot of these patients come in for routine hip and knee surgeries, and they’re healthy. And I love being able to talk to them. We’ll talk about sports, we’ll talk about their lives, their family, and I think it’s great. I love making those connections by talking to them.”

At Elms College, where she recently earned her bachelor of science in nursing degree and will soon add the title of registered nurse, Girouard followed in the footsteps of her mother, who made nursing her profession as well.

“I’ve always looked up to her. I see what she does day in and day out,” she said. “I know that I love caring for everybody around me, so I just decided to go into this profession … and I love it.”

Girouard currently works in the Student Nurse Associate Program (SNAP) at Baystate. SNAP nurses function in a supportive role to a registered nurse and work collaboratively with the healthcare team in the management of patient care. This position allows the student to gain experience in providing care to a diverse patient population and to develop strong communication and organizational skills.

Meanwhile, they perform direct patient care, obtain and record vital signs, collect laboratory specimens, document intake and output, communicate with patients and staff, promote patient safety, and function as a team member within the health system. Girouard appreciates the experience she’s getting through the program, not only in the specifics of orthopedics, but how to relate to patients. And she intends to keep learning, in a variety of settings.

“I want to get some med-surg experience, and I’ve always been interested in intensive care. And then I definitely want to go back to school,” she said, looking to move on to a master’s program. “My goal is to be a nurse practitioner.”

When asked why she strives for an ICU role, she said the “go, go, go” of the setting appeals to her. “These patients are very critical, and I’d like to be able to help them in any way possible, and just get them even a little better than they were in the morning.”

Taking classes and gaining learning experiences through the COVID-19 years was difficult, she admitted. “I’m a very hands-on visual learner, and having to learn from home in my room on a desk was not ideal at all.

“But we had amazing professors at Elms,” she added. “And they helped so much, all the time. They would have hourly extra time when you could go on Zoom with them, and if you needed help, they were always willing to help. I think the professors really made a difference. After all, they had to adjust to this big change as well.”

Even a period of mask wearing in class was a reminder that the pandemic wasn’t quite over, so being able to attend classes without masks this past year — and, more recently, work clinical rotations without them — have been pleasant reminders that life has returned to normal.

For health systems, of course, it’s still a very challenging time because of nurse shortages, as all the recent graduates we spoke with told us. And that means greater career opportunities for those entering the field, who are able to write their own tickets — with the right degrees of course.

“Even if there weren’t so many jobs out there, I still would be interested in nursing. I love the profession,” Girouard said. “But I think a lot of people want to go into nursing because they know they can go into deeper specialties like ICU or PICU, things like that.”

The work certainly requires certain traits, she said. “Definitely caring, for sure. And patience. If you don’t have patience, I don’t think this would be a good career choice for you; a lot of patients can be very difficult. And you need to be careful, too. A lot of errors can happen, and we learn in nursing school how important it is to prevent errors. It’s so easy to make a mistake.”

So, as Girouard ponders what might be next for her, both in the work setting and eyeing the next steps in her education, she’s walking into a world of opportunities as an RN with a healthy sense of caution and care, but not anxiety.

“I’m just so excited,” she said. “The last four years were so difficult, especially with COVID and working in the hospital during COVID. And now I get to go to work and not wear a mask. And I’m going to be a nurse, and actually take care of patients and be a difference maker.”


—Joseph Bednar

Healthcare News

‘I Always Wanted to Help People’

Jane Marozzi

Even after many fulfilling years in nursing, Jane Marozzi’s dream was to earn a BSN, so she did.


When Jane Marozzi says she’s been looking forward to earning a bachelor of science in nursing degree for a long time, she means it.

Because in her case, the BSN isn’t just the culmination of four years of college, but a highlight of a career that has spanned almost four decades.

Still, like other, more traditional graduates of area programs, her interest in a nursing career started early.

“I have a picture of me with a stethoscope at Christmas time when I was little,” Marozzi recalled. “I felt a natural draw to the field.”

So, after high school, she enrolled in a three-year diploma program at St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Hartford, Conn. and started her nursing career at its affiliate hospital, now operated by Trinity Health Of New England, in 1985.

Thirty-eight years later, she is celebrating earning her BSN at Bay Path University.

“I always wanted to help people,” she said of her long career, spent exclusively at St. Francis, first on the cardiac floor and then in maternity.

“Throughout that time, I got married and had children,” she said, but throughout her career, “I always wanted to get my BSN. After my parents had passed in 2018, I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ Bay Path gave me such great flexibility, to be able to do it online five days a week. It was a lot, but it was doable.”

While nothing could replace a lifetime of caring for patients, “the nursing program taught me so much about wellness, diversity, nursing research, and community health, which was huge because I did not get that in my diploma program. I became a better writer. My leadership skills grew.”

Marozzi graduated in December 2022, and on Jan. 1, BSN in hand, she was offered the nurse manager position in the maternity unit at St. Francis.

With a few months in that role under her belt, and just a few months short of her 60th birthday, she’s glad she made the effort to earn that degree.

“I said to my husband, ‘why am I doing this? I’m 59.’ And he said, ‘you wanted this. Keep going.’ So there were professional reasons, but a lot of personal ones too.”

“I felt like the BSN nurse was looked at a little differently. It became my personal goal to strive for this, and as I got close to the end, I saw I had an opportunity to become a nurse manager,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘why am I doing this? I’m 59.’ And he said, ‘you wanted this. Keep going.’ So there were professional reasons, but a lot of personal ones too.”

In both the cardiac unit early in her career and the maternity unit later on, she had opportunities to learn and grow into leadership roles; her last position before becoming nurse manager was senior clinical advisor, which was a mix of bedside and office duties.

As for that bedside role, she said it has changed a great deal over the years.

“The amount of computer charting, I think, has removed the nurse from the bedside. When I was first a bedside nurse, we gave backrubs — there was so much care we did. Now that kind of care is either missing or is in a nursing assistant role. There’s so much documentation now.”

She is intrigued by a ‘virtual nurse’ technology being introduced by Trinity Health at St. Francis later this summer, through which patients can be observed via a TV screen by a remote nurse, who can respond to needs right away and summon the right personnel into the room.

“I still jump out there if the staff needs me, to keep up on my bedside skills. I don’t want to forget what it’s like to be at the bedside.”

“I find that fascinating,” Marozzi said, but responding to patients’ needs has always been the heart of the nursing life for her. “I still jump out there if the staff needs me, to keep up on my bedside skills. I don’t want to forget what it’s like to be at the bedside.”

And her hospital, like so many others, needs nurses at the bedside.

“We’re getting graduate nurses, and we have a great training program here,” she added. “We try to bring them in early in their careers — student nurses, interns … we get them in, get them some skills, and maybe they will be interested in becoming a nurse.”

With nurse shortages a national concern, Marozzi is intrigued by the fact that hospitals are even bringing in LPNs for roles that previously required an RN.

“They don’t have the amount of nursing candidates that they need; it’s quite a different world right now. They’re looking for nurses,” she said. “Hospitals, we were told 10 years ago, didn’t take anyone unless they had the BSN. My whole capstone project was on how LPNs and team nursing are coming back. You need a team to get it done. And the LPNs have been just fabulous, giving medications, doing treatments, taking the pressure off registered nurses.”

Clearly, career possibilities abound in nursing — no matter one’s age.

“It’s definitely a great time to be a nurse,” Marozzi said. “There are so many opportunities for growth, and hospitals need so many nurses.”


—Joseph Bednar

Business of Aging

Education Anywhere

Marjorie Bessette says online nursing programs are opening doors to higher degrees at a time when the industry is demanding them.

Marjorie Bessette says online nursing programs are opening doors to higher degrees at a time when the industry is demanding them.

Back in 2010, the Institute of Medicine put out a call for 80% of all registered nurses to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) by 2020. National nurse organizations picked up the goal as well — 85% is the current goal — while hospitals with ‘magnet’ status, such as Baystate Medical Center, maintain even stricter staffing goals.

One problem, though: RNs work full-time jobs, and many go home to a full slate of family and parenting obligations. And that leaves little opportunity to go back to school to take classes toward a BSN.

Enter the online model.

“The reason for the increase in online RN-to-BSN programs is the need to increase the number of BSN-prepared nurses in the workplace,” said Marjorie Bessette, academic director of Health and Nursing at Bay Path University.

“There’s a national initiative to have 85% of RNs be minimally at the BSN level by 2020, which is right around the corner,” she went on. “Nurses have full-time jobs and full-time lives. With area hospitals and work sites demanding BSNs, we’re trying to help that workforce shortage by creating accelerated programs online that nurses can take on their own schedule. They don’t have to be in class at a certain time.”

Bay Path, through its American Women’s College, launched its online RN-to-BSN program in 2015 and graduated its first class in 2017. It also offers online tracks toward master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice degrees.

“Many students come in with an RN already, and they’re usually able to transfer most of their associate-degree credits toward a bachelor’s degree,” Bessette noted.

American International College (AIC) offers online programs for an RN-to-BSN degree, as well as its MSN track, which offers three concentrations: nurse educator, nurse administrator, and family nurse practitioner.

“Ultimately, both RNs and graduate-program students are already working nurses, and it can be challenging to go back to school while working on their chosen career, but the online format gives them the opportunity to do that,” said Ellen Furman, interim director for Graduate Nursing and assistant professor of Nursing at AIC.

“The reason for the increase in online RN-to-BSN programs is the need to increase the number of BSN-prepared nurses in the workplace.”

“They have to be online weekly, but when, exactly, to be online is up to them,” she went on. “So, a nurse might be working nights, or might be on days, and this gives them the flexibility to arrange their schedule to get their work done at a time that’s convenient for them.”

And convenience is paramount for young medical professionals who don’t need much more added stress on their plates.

“Many have families, and trying to balance that can be really difficult,” Furman said. “With the online forum, they can work when they want to work, or when they have time to work, rather than being at a specific place at a specific time on a weekly basis.”

And that, industry leaders believe, will lead to many more nurses seeking the higher degrees so in demand.

“There is currently an RN shortage, which seems to be cyclical. Some years, graduates are looking for jobs, and some years, there are multiple jobs per graduate,” Furman said. “Right now, there seems to be a real shortage. If you look at any healthcare institution in the region, they’re all looking to recruit nurses, and at higher levels of education, especially if they’re a magnet institution like Baystate, which is looking to increase their number of nurses with higher degrees.”

Setting the Pace

Cindy Dakin, professor and director of Graduate Nursing Studies at Elms College School of Nursing, said Elms offers all three tracks of its MSN program — one in nursing education, one in nursing and health services management, and the third in school nursing — online.

“You don’t have to be sitting in front of the computer at a specific time. Classes are not live. You can access the materials through the system,” she noted. “The faculty will load the syllabus and load all the assignments for the entire semester, so students know when each deadline is. That allows them to plan ahead if they want to get ahead. If somebody moves quicker, or if a vacation is coming up, you can get it done ahead of time if you want to. It allows flexibility when you can access the whole course and know what the requirements and deadlines are.”

Elms launched its first MSN program — a totally in-person classroom model — in 2008, then moved to a hybrid format, recogizing that nurses have busy lives, and the requirements of the job — with often-unexpected overtime shifts arising — made it difficult to come to class at times.

School nurses in particular were having a tough time making it to class for 3 or 3:30 p.m., Dakin noted. “They always had to be late, and we always made allowances for them, but they were still missing something in the first half-hour of class.”

The best option, department leaders decided, was a totally online program.

“It has helped to broaden our market,” she said. “Normally, students — even in hybrid programs — have lived within close proximity to Elms, and come on campus for classes. Being online, I have students from the North Shore, on Nantucket, and these people definitely would not have enrolled in our program if we still required face-to-face classes. Our base is much wider now.”

Bessette added that students face the same academic rigors as they would in a physical classroom, but they can complete the program on an accelerated basis to meet the requirements.

“It’s more convenient because, whatever shift you’re working as a nurse, you’re able to fit that in. When I went back for my bachelor’s degree, I did it the traditional way; we didn’t have an online program at the time. I went in the evening after work, one course, three nights a week, for 15 weeks. But I did my master’s online, and that made a huge difference.”

Most online nursing courses do require a clinical component, depending on the track. Also, “we have a few on-campus days, but those are minimal,” Furman said. “In the RN-to-BSN program, there’s no on-campus requirement.”

Breaking Through

Dakin was quick to note that, if students need to talk to faculty, the professor will schedule a session, or perhaps arrange to meet several students at once through a videoconferencing session.

In fact, technology has made the online model feel less isolating in recent years, she added. “When they load the course information, they may use PowerPoint, or they might tape themselves lecturing. Most of us, at the very least, do voiceovers, which lends a more personal aspect to it.

“Some students aren’t sure if they’ll like it,” she added. “They like the extra time, not having to travel to a specific place. But they’re also afraid of losing contact. But that doesn’t happen, and at the same time, it really broadens our base to recruit students.”

Furman agreed.

“There will be people who say, ‘I don’t think I can learn online.’ I’ve been that student who has been both online and in the classroom, and I’ll say that online education is not like it used to be,” she told BusinessWest. “Today, with technology as it is, there are so many more options to deliver content and more effectively teach students in that online room. I believe if a student says they can’t learn online, they just haven’t been engaged in the right program in the right way.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]