College for America Blog

Creating Community through Higher Education


Posted In: Students

Nov • 21 • 2016

Partners HealthCare, headquartered in Boston and Somerville, Massachusetts, is bringing people together through the power of education. At the Revere Health Center of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) – one of the two founding academic medical centers of Partners HealthCare along with Brigham and Women’s Hospital – Asmaa Sahrour and Lisa Reeves have found that their enrollment in College for America at Southern New Hampshire University has resulted in more collaborative relationships, and greater professional success.


A 1997 high-school graduate, Lisa Reeves immediately enrolled in her local community college but she quickly discovered that the academic path she had chosen was not right for her at the time. She decided to put her degree on hold, and enter the workforce. She learned about an open position as a Patient Services Coordinator at the Revere Health Center of MGH and decided to apply.


While she always thought about going back to school, Lisa had to put her dream on the back burner as she focused on other priorities like her busy job and starting a family. While Lisa enjoyed her role at the health center, she wanted to advance in her career and realized that many of the positions within her organization to which she aspired required a college degree. “I needed to do something because I wanted to get a higher level job,” she said.  Lisa knew that she was well respected and supported within her organization, and that her experience could lead to increased responsibility and career growth, but she also knew that more opportunities would likely be available if she increased the level of her formal education and enhanced her credentials.


Asmaa Sahrour’s story took a different path. Asmaa graduated with her degree in Architecture in 1988 in her native Morocco and immediately began working in that field. She worked as an architectural designer until she, her husband, and their first son moved to the United States in 1997. Her family’s move gave her the opportunity to learn English, which helped her to access more education and professional options in the U.S.  After reviewing these options, Asmaa decided to make a career switch and enter the health care field, which was something she had always wanted to do.


Asmaa enrolled in a medical assistant training program. Upon graduation, she accepted a role as medical assistant at the Revere Health Center of MGH and has been working there for the past thirteen years. Recently, Asmaa hit a point in her career, like Lisa, where she felt her opportunities to advance would be limited if she did not advance her academic credentials.  She realized as well that career advancement, especially in the constantly evolving and demanding health care environment, required not only a great deal of skill and experience, but often also called for advanced certifications and/or college degrees.


In 2015, the opportunity both Lisa and Asmaa had been waiting for arrived in their email inbox from Partners HealthCare. The email described an exciting new partnership between Partners and Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America , a fully accredited, non-profit institution of higher learning dedicated to helping working adults succeed in gaining college credentials. Partners and College for America had received funding from the Massachusetts Health Care Workforce Transformation Fund to develop and deliver, through a “free” pilot program, a new Health Care Fundamentals Certificate program to the employees of the MGH Health Centers and BWH Ambulatory practices.


Lisa and Asmaa quickly signed on to participate in the innovative pilot program which offered them the chance to not only earn a relevant credential, but in the process to also obtain half the college credits required towards an Associate’s Degree. The program, which is delivered via a flexible competency-based, online program, was uniquely designed to ensure a relevant curriculum. The skills and competencies that would be taught were informed by clinical and managerial leaders within the MGH Health Centers and BWH Ambulatory practices as part of the Partners/CfA grant partnership. And, as long as they completed it within the grant time frame, April 2015-December 2016, the program would be free to them.


Once enrolled, both Lisa and Asmaa soon realized there was an additional benefit to completing a program that aligned so well with their careers:  increased engagement with their work community as they completed real-world healthcare projects. “Our manager would check on us to see how we were doing. She would send emails out to our physicians, letting them know we were doing certain projects, and they, in turn, would talk to us when they saw us, often asking, ‘How is it going? Do you need anything? Can we help with anything?’ So it was nice to have that support,” said Lisa.


Because they were professional colleagues, as well as peers in the College for America certificate program, Lisa and Asmaa were able to work together on several projects. One of those projects included working together to get patient input as part of their health center’s application process for Level 3 Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) Certification. Relevant project work like this helped them to provide significant and meaningful contributions to their workplace while earning their college credits. Working together on their College for America projects also helped to solidify their working relationship. “We would meet in our office weekly to discuss these projects,” said Asmaa. “It’s great to have a person to talk to that understands what you are going through. I can ask her questions, and she can come to me.”


Lisa and Asmaa’s managers are also taking notice. Joan Niles, who managed Lisa and Asmaa throughout their program, has noticed major improvements in their work. “Since enrolling in College for America, both Lisa and Asmaa have brought a new sense of motivation and confidence to our Adult Medicine Team,” she said. “Their work was instrumental in our department passing for PCMH Level 3.  By participating in this wonderful program, they have shown that their goal of advancing their careers is attainable.”


And Lisa and Asmaa’s manager was correct. Since completing their certificates, both Lisa and Asmaa have been promoted. Lisa completed her Health Care Fundamentals Certificate in March of 2016 and was promoted from Patient Services Coordinator III to Administrative Coordinator in April of 2016. Asmaa completed her certificate in January of 2016 and was promoted from Lead Medical Assistant to Population Health Coordinator at the Massachusetts General Physician Organization (MGPO) in February of 2016.