Partners HealthCare

Boston, Massachusetts

Key strategies employed

  • Foster collaboration between human resources and community health departments
  • Involve hiring managers in the training process
  • Connect programming to health system diversity and outreach goals
  • Develop a paid internship program with pathways to hire
  • Provide tuition assistance for trainings accessible to frontline employees


  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH)
  • Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

Total employees

40,000 (68,000 within entire Partners HealthCare system)

Mission of Workforce Development Programs

“Partners HealthCare Workforce Development is committed to ensuring a highly qualified and diverse pipeline of healthcare professionals, while providing economic opportunity for the communities we serve. Our mission is to help individuals explore and pursue healthcare careers as well as to broaden their skills and continue to grow personally and professionally.”


Partners HealthCare (Partners) in Boston, Massachusetts is a large nonprofit healthcare system founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Partners provides a full continuum of care through the two founding academic medical centers, several community hospitals, ambulatory practices, community health centers, rehabilitation hospitals, and home care services. Partners Workforce Development’s strategy is focused on “pipelines and pathways.” Workforce development programs have been organized around four pipelines representing different constituent groups: youth, low-income community residents, incumbent workers, and community health clinicians. The primary goals of the workforce development programs at both the system level and at the anchor institutions are: (1) to build a skilled, diverse workforce and (2) to improve the health of communities by providing quality jobs with good benefits and opportunities for advancement. Educational attainment is a primary focus of the program, as both a means to create a more skilled workforce and as a way to provide pathways to economic self-sufficiency.


Partners Workforce Development began in 1998 with Partners’ participation in, and funding from, the federal government’s Welfare to Work program, which provided access to training and employment for community residents on welfare. Although the federal funding eventually ended, Partners improved and enhanced this pre-employment training program in 2004 with significant support from SkillWorks, a national funders collaborative. Partners subsequently established the program on an ongoing basis as Partners in Career and Workforce Development (PCWD), which is now fully funded internally by Partners Community Health and Human Resources Departments. Over the last twelve years, Partners and its anchor institutions have developed many additional pipeline and pathway programs that explicitly link workforce development goals to improving community health. “We recognize that if we’re going to improve health in low-income communities, we have to work with other organizations to do something about poverty,” explained Matt Fishman, vice president of community health at Partners.

Description of programs

Although Partners’ pipelines and pathways reach different constituent groups, there are common resources and strategies that characterize these programs: formal curricula and training, coaching and mentoring, career exploration and reflection, internships, continued development with incremental milestones and long-term growth. Each program is enhanced by strong partnerships with educational organizations, community-based organizations, faith-based groups, and other local groups. In addition, Partners works with public agencies such as the Boston Mayor’s Office for Workforce Development.  Each of the pipeline initiatives are described below.

Community pipeline

PCWD is a healthcare training and employment initiative designed to prepare low-income community residents for entry into health careers. Each year, up to sixty community residents participate in the eight-week program, which includes classroom learning, an internship and on-the-job training, job placement assistance, and coaching. Partners works closely with multiple community-based organizations on outreach, training, and case management. BWH, MGH and other Partners member institutions participate in classroom instruction, offer internships, provide program design consultation, and staff support.The focus of PCWD is to connect community members to “careers, not just jobs” and to provide opportunities for advancement. As MJ Ryan, director of workforce development described it:  “Enhancing the skills of people so that they are ready to access employment within Partners and its member institutions, and then supporting those that already work here to advance, has all kinds of benefits. If we were interested only in filling job vacancies, that might be a whole lot easier, but to achieve the long-term impact that we intend, it takes a lot more time…It also takes great community partnerships to engage and prepare individuals for a program such as ours.” By aligning with community-based organizations such as Project Hope, a multi-service agency working to support low-income women with children, Partners can connect community members to other career advancement programs.

Incumbent pipeline

Partners’ approach to developing its workforce includes both onsite trainings and support for higher education. Training courses for employees include: English as a second language, paths to citizenship, computing, medical terminology, pre-college math and reading, and college readiness.  Partners and its anchor institutions facilitate access to higher education through financial support in the form of tuition reimbursement and loan forgiveness programs, which any employee is eligible for after six months of work. An innovative online college preparation program, funded initially through a grant from The Boston Foundation, develops employees’ confidence and competence to successfully access and complete online courses and degree programs.

Youth pipeline

The primary focus of the youth programs is to prepare and connect area youth to postsecondary educational opportunities. Both BWH and MGH have well-developed internship programs that provide exposure to the healthcare field, opportunities for mentorship and work experience, and college readiness programming and application support.  For youth program participants, there are opportunities to continue working at the institutions during and after college, although this is not a requirement of either program.  Further information about BWH’s Student Success Jobs Program, MGH’s Youth Scholars Program, and the Partners Community Scholarship Foundation can be found in the Inside-Up Strategy descriptions.

Staffing and budget

MGH and BWH have dedicated human resource staff coordinating the workforce programs at their respective institutions. PCWD staff provides complementary and supplemental support for hospital-based programs, and also develop and offer additional workforce programs and resources to all employees in the Partners system. Although Human Resources and Community Health Departments at Partners fund the centrally provided resources and programs, Workforce Development has been successful in obtaining external grant funding, which has been key to driving new and innovative programs. Past and current funders include: The Boston Foundation, SkillWorks, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the US Department of Labor, and the Fish Family Foundation.


Partners in Career and Workforce Development (PCWD) program outcomes

  • Total graduates (2004-2015): 534;
  • Total placed with hospitals and partners: 464;
  • Current average starting salary $15.63/hr.

Positions graduates are hired into

  • Patient services coordinator
  • Unit coordinator
  • Operating room assistant
  • Operations associate
  • Ambulatory practice secretary

Key Strategies

Foster collaboration between Human Resources and Community Health Departments

Partners has explicitly linked its community health improvement strategy to workforce development goals. PCWD is cosponsored and cofunded by Human Resources and Community Health at the system level with regular communication and collaboration with the anchor institutions. As Partners describes it, “Human Resources is accountable for creating a high quality, diverse workforce. Community Health is accountable for progress in communities becoming healthier. These priorities reinforce and leverage one other—recruiting, retaining and developing our workforce creates economic opportunity for community residents as well as for our current employees, and their families.”  This collaboration also enables Partners to leverage the findings of the tri-annual Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs).  Consistently among the high priorities identified by the CHNAs are: the need for access to good jobs with benefits for low-income young people and opportunities for advancement for low-income adults.

Involve hiring managers in the training process

“While leadership buy-in is critical to creating sustainable workforce development, equally important is the engagement of the people that actually make the hiring decisions,” emphasizes Ryan. At Partners, engagement begins at the design stage of training initiatives, where managers are key to identifying necessary skills and competencies that should be trained for. Since managers help to design the program and curriculum, they are more confident that the training process will meet their needs. Another component of this engagement is educating managers about the academic resources and opportunities available to employees through workforce development initiatives, at Partners and with its member institutions. Many managers have become champions of these initiatives, providing release time for employees when possible and acting as cheerleaders for employee success. In cases where release time is not possible, department managers often brainstorm alternatives to facilitate employee participation.

Connect programming to health system diversity goals

One of Partners’ strategic goals is to create a more diverse and culturally competent workforce that better reflects the populations it serves.  A majority of participants in the community pipeline and youth pathways programs are people of color; providing entry into health careers for these program participants supports the system’s diversity goals.  Promoting the advancement of employees of color through training opportunities for frontline workers also supports diversity priorities:  “When the hospital formed a diversity committee, one of the things considered was what could be done to help the incumbent workforce advance.  Since the greatest concentration of minorities is in entry-level service positions, we needed to determine how to support those individuals to advance internally and possibly go back to school to further develop their academic and professional skills,” underscored Carlyene Prince-Erikson, director of employee education and leadership development at MGH.

For more information


Mary Jane Ryan
Director, Workforce Development
Partners HealthCare


Harriet Tolpin and MJ Ryan, interview by David Zuckerman and Katie Parker, December 14, 2015.

Anchor Institution Toolkit Meeting (Partners HealthCare, Boston, MA, January 19, 2016), transcript.

Partners Healthcare, “Partners Workforce Development,” accessed May 2016,

Anchor Institution Toolkit Meeting

January 19, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts

Meeting attendees:

Mary Jane Ryan, Director, Workforce Development, Partners HealthCare

Harriet Tolpin, Senior Advisor for Workforce Development and Community Health, Partners HealthCare

Ronnie Sanders, Executive Director, Community Health, Partners HealthCare

Timothy Galvin, Program Coordinator, Community Health, Partners HealthCare

Ellen M. Gilmore, Executive Director, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Human Resources

Elizabete (Liz) De Moura, Community Partnerships Manager, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Human Resources

Carlyene Prince Erickson, Director, Employee Education and Leadership Development, Massachusetts General Hospital

Michelle Judith Keenan, Director, Community Programs, Center for Community Health and Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Christyanna Egun, Director of Boston Partnerships, MGH Center for Community Health

Megan Bradley, Director, Recruitment Services, Massachusetts General Hospital

Matthew Fishman, VP, Community Health, Partners HealthCare

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