More nurses to the rescue: Class graduates following residency during pandemic

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Tihane Smith smiles while receiving a lei after Hilo Medical Center's Nurse Residency Program graduation ceremony at Nani Mau Restaurant and Garden in Hilo on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Mayor Mitch Roth gives the keynote address during Hilo Medical Center's Nurse Residency Program graduation ceremony at Nani Mau Restaurant and Garden in Hilo on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Amy McBride receives her certificate from the Hilo Medical Center Nurse Residency Program at Nani Mau Restaurant and Garden in Hilo on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Chambry'e Lagapa smiles after being awarded Nurse Resident of the Year during Hilo Medical Center's Nurse Residency Program graduation ceremony at Nani Mau Restaurant and Garden in Hilo on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Kimberly Wada hugs one of the nurses she taught in Hilo Medical Center's Nurse Residency Program during a graduation ceremony at Nani Mau Restaurant and Garden in Hilo on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Brittany O'Callaghan waves to her friends after graduating from Hilo Medical Center's Nurse Residency Program on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Crystal Soares, center, congratulates Chambry'e Lagapa after Hilo Medical Center's Nurse Residency Program graduation ceremony at Nani Mau Restaurant and Garden in Hilo on Friday.

Despite challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 16 new nurses graduated from Hilo Medical Center’s Nurse Residency Program on Friday morning.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, the nurses had the opportunity to learn through experience for a year in HMC’s residency program.

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Hawaii has a shortage of nurses, so the importance of graduating nurses on the Big Island has increased — especially during the pandemic.

“We’re always looking to hire nurses, but even more so now,” said nursing educator Jamie Brinkman. “People are retiring and we’re getting sicker patients, so the need for nurses is growing.”

According to Chief Nursing Officer Arthur Sampaga Jr., about 200 nurses at HMC have graduated from the residency program, and most of the 2021 graduates are from the Big Island.

“We’re always excited to get home-grown nurses, because we know they will be dedicated to the community,” Brinkman said. “And hopefully they will become 30-year nurses here and will end up taking care of us.”

Chambry’e Lagapa of Honokaa worked in the service industry for years until she realized she wanted to serve the community in a different way.

“I chose to become a nurse, because I wanted to do something I felt would make a bigger impact, and I’m so thankful I did,” Lagapa said. “My journey was rough, and I didn’t know if the job was for me, but I’m so glad I stuck it out.”

Lagapa was surprised when she was awarded Nurse Resident of the Year by her peers and preceptors, which are her instructors and educators.

“Today is so special, and I’m so proud of everyone in my class,” Lagapa said. “Every step of the way, I had some reservations and moments where I didn’t think I could go on, but with the support I had, I didn’t want to give up.”

Although she’s excited to begin working at HMC as a nurse and preceptor, Lagapa is anticipating continual growth and education.

“I still have so much to learn and have so many ways I can continue to grow,” Lagapa said. “I’m excited to help the next class of residents and give them insight, because I couldn’t have done this without support.”

This year’s class was put in a tougher spot when they started the residency program in October 2020 after spending their spring 2020 semester of school in online classes instead of the regular clinical practicum.

“There was a challenge for us and for them to make sure their skills were where they should be after a normal clinical session,” said nursing educator Kimberly Wada. “We had a lot more classes and skills training, and for many of them, this was their first job. Plus, they were scared to catch COVID, so we really had to be the supportive … through this year.”

Wada is one of the Nursing Professional Development Practitioners and helps the nurses in the program transition from student to professional. Through the pandemic, she held closed-door venting sessions to help them through the tough year.

“They just talk about anything, and it helps them to know that they aren’t the only ones struggling,” Wada said. “It was hard for them through it all, because you don’t know what to expect from the job, especially with COVID.”

While the class had many challenges, Wada knows the nurses will make a difference at HMC and anywhere else they may work in the future.

“If they lasted and graduated from this program, they will persevere and hopefully make HMC their home,” Wada said. “Even if the job is frustrating, or they’re scared, I think the joy and excitement of knowing they made a patient better, or laugh or smile, it makes them feel good, and that’s what makes me happy.”

As 16 new nurses get ready for their careers, a new class of 23 residents will begin their turn in the program.

“When the pandemic hit, I initially questioned whether I wanted to continue in health care,” Brandon Meyers said. “With help from my classmates and teachers, though, I was motivated to want to keep helping people.”

Meyers will be a resident nurse in the emergency room, and although he is nervous to start the program, he is excited to serve the hospital in which he was born.

“I want to be a nurse, so I can give back to the community and hospital that has taken such good care of me in the past,” Meyers said. “Knowing we have a good educational foundation and a great team at HMC brings me comfort.

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“I know it won’t be easy, but I’m going to just take it one day at a time.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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