Martha’s Vineyard Hospital offers nursing students change of scene

Erica Mazza, a nursing student at Northeastern University, worked at Martha's Vineyard Hospital this summer as a certified nursing assistant. — Photo by Janet Hefler

Every summer Martha’s Vineyard Hospital takes on a new face — or actually many — with extra nursing staff hired to help handle an increase in medical care required by an influx of visitors and seasonal residents. Among those new faces are nursing students from a variety of colleges and universities, who work as certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

The partnership is a win-win for both sides. Nursing students learn new skills and gain experience in a different hospital setting, while MVH nurses benefit from the extra help the students provide and the opportunity to share their expertise.

MVH nurse manager Nina Thayer said she puts notices on the hospital’s website about hiring nursing students for the summer. She also has a relationship established with cooperative education advisors at Northeastern University and emails them about job opportunities for nursing students.

The nursing students MVH hired this summer included one from Northeastern, one from the University of Montana, two from UMass Amherst, three from the University of Connecticut, and one from Salve Regina University.

“We do depend on them a lot,” Ms. Thayer told The Times in a phone conversation this week. “Plus, it’s so much fun to have them come, because they bring a whole different level of enthusiasm.”

One of them is Erica Mazza, a nursing student at Northeastern University in Boston. On family vacations to Martha’s Vineyard as a child starting at age five, she enjoyed riding the Flying Horses Carousel. Whether or not she caught the brass ring then, it sounds like Ms. Mazza has this summer when she describes her job at MVH.

Ms. Mazza, a 2007 graduate of Dartmouth High School, is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Northeastern University in Boston next spring. The five-year nursing program she is in includes three cooperative (co-op) education experiences in clinical settings, such as Boston-area hospitals. Nursing students work in a four-month co-op job each fall semester in the third, fourth and fifth years of their program.

Ms. Mazza worked her first co-op job at Beth Israel Hospital on an acute surgical trauma floor with 36 beds. Her second co-op job was at Children’s Boston Hospital at Waltham in an outpatient infusion center where children with mostly chronic illnesses receive medications intravenously.

The road to Martha’s Vineyard

Unlike her co-op jobs, which were planned months in advance, Ms. Mazza’s summer job on Martha’s Vineyard came about quite unexpectedly. In May she traveled with 18 nursing school classmates to Rio Dulce, Guatemala, on a privately organized “jungle medic mission” to help provide free health and dental care to about 1,000 residents in remote Mayan villages.

After Ms. Mazza returned home on June 1, since she had no classes this summer, she told her co-op advisor she wanted to work somewhere outside of Boston and try something new.

“I got an email from a different co-op advisor and she said do you want to go to Africa, or do you want to go to Martha’s Vineyard?” Ms. Mazza recalled. “I said you don’t have to pull my leg to get me to go to Martha’s Vineyard. It was perfect timing, too. I had interviewed elsewhere and then this came up.”

Another attraction of the job was housing was provided. “I live with two other nursing students, so we can all identify with each other’s experiences,” Ms. Mazza said.

With the appeal of a job closer to home and her dad’s strong encouragement, she started at MVH on June 9. She has worked primarily in acute care, and also in the emergency department and outpatient clinic, on three twelve-hour shifts a week.

“I don’t know where I’ll be when I go to work; it’s wherever they need me,” Ms. Mazza said.

She learned the ropes at the outpatient clinic from another Northeastern University graduate, registered nurse Ashley Crane, who did her first co-op at MVH and returned to work there this summer.

The MVH difference

When asked what she has enjoyed at MVH and what is different compared to other bigger hospitals where she worked, Ms. Mazza said it was the opportunity for more patient contact.

“I do have opportunities that didn’t exist in my other jobs to take the time to sit down once in a while and really talk with patients and listen to them,” she said. “And most of them, I was surprised, were Islanders, so I’ve been able to listen to all kinds of stories and it was so enjoyable, to gain a new perspective about life on the Vineyard.”

Ms. Mazza said she would describe the work environment at MVH as a different, not slower, pace. “The types of patients we see, if anything is remotely serious, they go on a med flight or are transported off to another facility on the ferry,” she said. “Believe it or not, though, I’ve seen a lot of very sick patients. The acute care floor has been full a lot of the summer.”

Ms. Mazza marveled at the hospital’s state-of-the-art equipment and how everything still seems brand new more than a year after it opened.

She especially appreciated that each patient has a private room. One of the biggest issues at many hospitals is that patients are frustrated with their roommates,” Ms. Mazza said. “I’ve never had luxury of working in a hospital where every patient had a single room.”

The teaching touch

Ms. Mazza said the MVH staff is very helpful and accommodating to students. The nurses she worked with invited her to observe procedures as they do them and offered her opportunities to learn new skills, with Ms. Thayer’s encouragement.

“It’s really fun for the nurses to think about teaching, to think about why they do something and how,” Ms. Thayer said. “It’s good for everybody all way around. We get lovely comments about the nursing students from patients, who say they’re so professional and wonderful to have around.”

MVH chief nurse executive Carol Bardwell agrees. “We really like to have them there,” she said in a phone conversation Monday. “It’s stimulating for the nursing staff to have new, energetic, very interested people. The nurses go out of their way to show them things and work with them on different levels. It’s very energizing for everybody, for the students and the staff that work with them.”

Ms. Bardwell said she and the nursing staff always look forward to having students come back again. “A few of them have come back again as students and later as RNs,” she said. “We really try to favor Island residents in our hiring, but also encourage them to get some experience off-Island. We give students an opportunity to know what we’re like and encourage them to return.”

Ms. Mazza may be one of them. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up here,” she said, when asked about her future plans.

In the meantime, she will head back to Boston and start her third co-op job on September 6 at Massachusetts General Hospital.