Posing with graduate

With colleges and universities across the country closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many graduating seniors won’t get the chance to walk across the stage to collect their diplomas.

Nursing pinning ceremonies – when professors, mentors or a loved one welcome students into the profession – were also canceled, leaving Ellison 17 and 18 patient care assistants (PCAs) unable to participate in the tradition.

Corinne Fogarty, RN, who started her career at MGH in 1999 and became a nurse in 2006, understood their disappointment. “Pinning can be more important than a graduation,” says Fogarty. “You are welcomed into a family you’ve worked hard to join. I wanted to do something to recognize their accomplishments.”

Fogarty approached Lori Pugsley, RN, BSN, MEd, nursing director of Inpatient Pediatrics at Mass General for Children (MGfC) and asked if she and her colleagues could mark the occasion by presenting MGfC employee pins to graduates Briana Alves, Rachael Regan, Taylor Smith and Caitlyn Dowd in place of college program pins.

The idea soon become a celebratory event on May 1 when Fogarty surprised the group by inviting 20 doctors, fellow nurses and Environmental Services staff from Ellison 17 to the playroom for a makeshift graduation ceremony.

Among the guests was Cheryl Dowd, NP, of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, who was redeployed to Ellison 18 – where she would work alongside her daughter Caitlyn Dowd, RN – when the unit became an adult COVID-19 unit. Cheryl was able to pin her daughter, bringing both to tears.

Graduate receiving a pin

“It was thoughtful of Corinne to plan the ceremony and having my mom at the pinning made it that much more meaningful,” Caitlyn says. “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse because of my mom and I planned on her pinning me during my Worcester State University event. This is an experience I’ll never forget.”

Fogarty presented the other pins telling each of the soon-to-be nurses that wherever their careers brought them, they would always be remembered and will always be part of the MGfC family. The staff plans to host three additional ceremonies for PCAs during their upcoming shifts.

“This was an opportunity to take 5 minutes away from our COVID-19 response and do something special for the graduates and ourselves. It’s important to care for yourself too,” Fogarty explains. “This is a stressful time for patients and staff, and for the PCAs, we found a way to make a bad situation a bit better.”