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‘My heart is in community health’ says Graduate School of Nursing student Helen Tsiagras

DNP student begins career as community health nurse during pandemic; active in GSNO

Helen Tsiagras, RN, first-year Doctor of Nursing Practice student in the Graduate School of Nursing’s Graduate Entry Pathway Program Family Nurse Practitioner track, began her nursing career during the COVID-19 pandemic. In November, she started work as a community health nurse at Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in Framingham, coordinating care for patients and supporting their needs.

“It’s been a unique experience entering the practice during a pandemic,” said Tsiagras. “As the virus continues to spread, a lot of people need follow-up care and connection to their primary care doctor or specialist. We’ve made so many changes already, between telehealth and precautionary guidelines. I really do feel like I am serving my community.”

“I’ve been fortunate to work a lot with the pediatric side, which has been super interesting and definitely lends itself to my hope to be a family nurse practitioner and treat patients across the lifespan.”

The Ashland native studied chemistry at the College of Holy Cross, following her passion for science and math, and volunteered at a local hospital where she recognized the value of working closely with others in a health care setting.

“I noticed that the nurses were having a lot of patient interaction, which was at the core of what I really wanted to do,” she said. “I took anatomy and physiology in college, and I totally fell in love with it. I knew learning about the human body and how things work needed to be somewhere in my journey.”

When it came time for Tsiagras to decide her next steps, she enrolled in the GEP program. She had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and through the GEP program became a registered nurse, on her way to earning her DNP. The GEP program is for individuals with bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing, leading first to registered nurse licensure, then to an advanced general RN, Doctor of Nursing Practice or a PhD in nursing.

“GEP is definitely a fast-paced program. They really start you off strong, getting you right into starting to form your clinical skills. It was a bit of an adjustment coming from a lab background, but they made me feel welcome and equal. The GEP bond is very strong and I got very close with my cohort,” she said.

Tsiagras serves as secretary for the Graduate Student Nursing Organization, in which she advocates for the student body, provides resources, builds tri-school relationships and helps put together beneficial events. She said having a leadership role on campus is a great way to be a liaison between faculty and students.

“We’ve been so fortunate to be in contact with other nursing groups that are starting to form, most notably the Nursing Equity and Justice Coalition. We want to make students aware that while we are in graduate school, there are so many rewarding extracurricular initiatives that enhance our education and happiness,” she said.

Although Tsiagras has a few more years in the program, she sees herself in a community health care setting working on health policy. Through her experience at Kennedy Community Health and her work within the GSN, she feels drawn toward a job that allows her to use her skills in communication and guidance.

“It’s amazing the different hats a nurse can wear: an educator, a nurturer, a leader. My heart is in community health,” said Tsiagras. “I am committed to helping others and pushing for the right to excellent health care for all. I think that our generation of nursing leaders can address a lot of challenges and make sure that we have a voice at the table. I can’t wait for what the future holds.”

The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

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