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This Simple Question Holds the Secret to Caregiving

Jayne Carvelli-Sheehan’s ’78 discusses a nursing career that began at Salem State

The patient was older; probably in his eighties. Jayne Carvelli-Sheehan’s ’78 was treating him during her very first clinical rotation as a nursing student at Salem State. She started talking to the patient about his health and the illness he was hospitalized for, and then Jayne asked him a question that would forever change her perspective and approach to care:

“I asked him about what he’d done in his life.”

What Jayne learned in that moment, about who her patient was and had become over the years, has shaped and enhanced her approach to care and relationships all the years of her life. 

“I found out that he was a very famous violinist,” she said. “His illness didn’t allow him to play anymore, and that loss had such an impact on his life in so many, many ways. He felt lost in who he was and how he identified himself.”

If she hadn’t asked him about his life, nor really listened, Jayne explained that she would have missed that important aspect of his care and how she, as his nurse, could do something helpful for him.

“Behind the disease is a human being, filled with life and experiences,” She added. “That is where we should focus, not just on the illness, but on the person and all of that wonder.”

Growing into Herself at SSU

When she was training to become a nurse at Salem State, Jayne felt there was something special about the SSU campus and community. 

“To this day, I’m still close friends with many people from SSU - 40 years later,” she said. “Our friendships have endured and will continue since we bonded over growing up. You not only get your education at Salem State, but you grow up there and become an adult.”

Her college experience was the foundation of everything that has helped her develop into the person she is today, Jayne explained. 

“There’s something special about Salem State,” she said. “It’s just the right size to allow for opportunities. You’re not a number – you are there as an individual. It’s an environment that invites you to share your opinions and voice, and be seen and heard, and you’re not lost in a large number of people. I really felt part of a community.”

Even though she was a nursing student, one of Jayne’s favorite classes was a Victorian literature elective taught by Dr. Elia. She was the only nursing student in the class, which was part of the core curriculum for English majors. 

“I wouldn’t miss that class for anything,” Jayne recalled. “I read books that I never would have read otherwise: Dante’s Inferno, Misanthrope, Voltaire. Dr. Elia was a very important teacher for me – he was tough but so embracing and so passionate about literature. He showed me about the overarching journey of life, and what literature can give you.”

Her experience at Salem State opened Jayne’s eyes to the depth and breadth of what education can be and helped her establish relationships that have been central to her life, both personally and professionally. 

“I came into my own at SSU, and I don’t think I would have done that at any other college,” she said. “While you’re going thru school, you really don’t realize the depth and breadth of what you’re learning and the importance of all that as it brings you forward in life. I always thought I had a great education, but now when I look back on it, I didn’t realize how fantastic my education at SSU was until I was out and in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

The Power to Impact Other People’s Lives

After graduating, Jayne started her career as a staff nurse. She later advanced into management to become a director and then senior vice president before stepping into her current role as senior vice president of system clinical integration and care coordination at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  

Even as she grew into leadership roles, Jayne maintained her love for clinical work. 

“My decision-making process always considers what’s important to the nurse at a patient’s bedside,” she said. 

That early experience with her patient who was a violinist has stayed with her throughout her career. 

“As a caregiver, we are given the chance to enter someone’s life at their most vulnerable times,” she explained. “With that we can impact their life – sometimes in simple, or sometimes in profound ways. That carries an awesome responsibility that I never forget.”

To current Salem State students, Jayne offers some simple and powerful advice:

“Hold tight to your persistence in chasing your vision and your passion. Always believe in the power of one – to really make an impact throughout your life. And no matter what always, always be kind.” 

Alumni Relations
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