“You have a nurse’s hands,” her grandmother told Elizabeth (Liz) Cirelli, trained by a VNA nurse at age ten to administer eye drops after the older woman’s cataract surgery. This first nursing experience sparked a lifetime passion.
A high school counselor discouraged this interest, however, stating that she was “too smart to be a nurse” and Cirelli went to work in the retail industry for ten years. Realizing that her work felt unrewarding, she shifted gears, enrolled in a nursing program at Northeastern University and set her feet on the path to the career of her childhood dream.
Having gained experience in surgical nursing at Beverly Hospital and Lahey Clinic, Cirelli joined Brigham and Williams Hospital about twenty-one years ago as a Staff Nurse, gradually moving into positions of greater responsibility, and earned a master’s degree at University of Massachusetts.
Liz recently accepted the position of Professional Development Manager at Brigham and Williams Hospital where she combines leadership, administration, clinical nursing and education competencies in support of 120 nurses and 80 nursing assistants.
Among her responsibilities are regulatory compliance, staff orientation, and subject matter expertise in service lines such as bariatric, colorectal, liver and pancreatic surgery. She also develops training programs for the nursing staff - sometimes teaching courses herself - and coordinates interdisciplinary committees that create policies with a broad reach throughout the Mass General Brigham Hospital organization.
Cirelli’s clinical background bolsters credibility when she provides advisory support to a nurse caring for a patient. “I love the contact at bedside. It allows me to use my clinical skills to help solve problems.” That same background plays a satisfying part in the educational aspect of her job. “I enjoy creating side projects that simplify complex topics for busy nurses. My greatest satisfaction is watching colleagues grow, especially a novice nurse who later teaches others.”
The onset of the COVID pandemic brought patients into the hospital with a new disease and Cirelli was responsible for managing safety protocols amid constantly shifting advice and conflicting data. “Some nurses fell sick and others faced tough days with patients failing to recover. I tried to support every nurse during intensely difficult times.”
Although she had not originally planned to enroll for another degree, Cirelli is glad that she listened to the wise advice of a colleague: “Education will always pay you back.” She believes that earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree through UNH Online in 2020 opened the door to promotion, and that the consecutive online format of the nursing courses set the pace and flexibility to manage a good work-life balance.
“UNH built this program with an incredible amount of information combined with a rich interactive experience. I remain in contact with my cohort, continuing to learn and share with them. UNH has a great reputation in nursing and I frequently recommend their program to colleagues who want to earn a higher degree.”
Liz’s doctoral thesis was inspired by a young relative with autism. Acknowledging the frequent marginalization of autistic patients in the healthcare system, she developed a nursing handbook replete with specific examples of patient communication. The results of introducing this handbook into the training program indicated significant improvement in care and a higher comfort level among nurses treating autistic patients.
Pairing Cirelli’s professional experience with her love of teaching creates a benefit to both nurses and patients. “I never want to stop. There is nothing more inspirational than watching a nurse grow and develop their career.”
The dreams of a ten-year old girl with nurse’s hands have blossomed into full flower.