Nursing Education and Training Initiative

A message from Shekinah Eliassen, CEO, George Mark Children’s House

Pediatric palliative nursing is a critically needed nursing specialty that is both a rewarding and unique line of work. In this blog, I’m proud to introduce Jenny Zettler Rhodes, RN, MSN, who serves as Nurse Educator and Recruiter here at George Mark Children’s House. Here, Jenny shares how we’re innovating in this space. Jenny discusses our first-of-its-kind pilot program that we launched in July 2022 in partnership with CSU Shiley Haynes Institute for Palliative CareThe George Mark’s Pediatric Palliative Care Nursing Education, Training, and Employment Initiative.  

The nursing shortage that is impacting so many of us domestically and abroad has also impacted our community at George Mark Children’s House, and we are faced with a shortage of pediatric palliative nurses. To address this challenge, we have designed an exciting and important nursing recruiting program in partnership with California State University Shiley Haynes Institute for Palliative Care that focuses on attracting newly graduated Registered Nurses.  Our initiative hopes to create attractive employment opportunities by providing on-site training, online coursework and well-regarded CSU certification, while also offering competitive wellness and benefit packages. 

This program is an exciting and important investment in the nursing workforce. Together, we will work to ensure more children and families within our organization and beyond can receive the quality care they need and deserve. 


What can a newly graduated nurse expect when going through the Pediatric Palliative Care Nursing Education, Training, and Employment program at George Mark Children’s House? 

Jenny Zettler Rhodes: 

This program allows newly graduated nurses to receive additional support to becoming practicing pediatric palliative care nurses here at GMCH. The training provides three months of mentorship, skills development, understanding of the field of palliative care, and understanding of GMCH as an institution and pillar in the community. 

Trainees are exposed to patient care in a way that allows them time to build their skills and understanding by using a combination of the CSU coursework, bedside care, team building, and skills teaching. 

What are the barriers to entering this field of nursing, and how is the Pediatric Palliative Care Nursing Education, Training, and Employment program at George Mark Children’s House addressing them?

Jenny Zettler Rhodes:  

There are a number of barriers that new nurses face when entering the workforce which we address. First, it takes a lot of resources to train a new nurse, and so many new grads have difficulty finding employment that will employ and train them without nursing experience because of those large, upfront costs that the employer must absorb.  

Second, it can be difficult for new grads to obtain the support and training they need as they learn how to be an efficient, effective nurse in the role for which they were hired. Many jobs are a “learn-as-you-go” environment, which can be frightening and demoralizing for new nurses.  

Our new program seeks to address these barriers and provide opportunities to nurses interested in this kind of care.  

What are the benefits of on-site training at GMCH?  

Jenny Zettler Rhodes:

Many of our candidates will have received didactic training in pediatrics in nursing school and have done some clinical hours in a pediatric care setting. Several have even heard of GMCH and have gotten to know about our work by looking at our website, through word of mouth, or through interacting with our social media postings.  

However, it is only through being here, working with our kids, watching how our staff interact with kids and families, and seeing all the fun — that a nurse can really start to understand what their role is at this unique place and how to care for our special kids and families. 

In your view as the Nursing Educator and Recruiter at George Mark Children’s House, what are the qualities required to be an exceptional palliative provider? 

Jenny Zettler Rhodes: 

Pediatric palliative nursing requires a commitment to “understanding” – whether that be understanding the disease processes we see, understanding the entire context of the child, understanding parent perspectives and circumstances, and understanding ourselves and our reactions to our daily work. Folks that come into this work need to be curious and willing to look outward and inward for a depth of understanding of the many layers present in any situation that comes before them. 

From your perspective, in your career as a registered nurse with certifications in hospice and palliative care, why is there a nursing shortage overall, but specifically for pediatric palliative care? 

Jenny Zettler Rhodes: 

The nursing shortage is a nationwide problem that has been years in the making and was forecasted back when I was becoming a nurse 20 years ago. Partially, the shortage was expected in anticipation of the “silver tsunami”, or in other words, the large volume of baby boomers getting older and needing increasing health care services as a normal part of aging. However, the reality is that our nursing workforce has endured a lot over these past couple of years with the pandemic, and the shortage has been exacerbated. There are a lot of complicated and dynamic forces at play in the health care system, and in the education of new nurses, making it difficult to keep up with demand. 

When it comes to pediatric palliative care — We live in a culture that has difficulty openly discussing complex chronic health problems, end-of-life, and with the difficulty of parenting medically fragile children. So, in a way, pediatric palliative care is counter-cultural, and in another way, it is like the best kept secret in our health care system. 

What makes Pediatric Palliative Care nursing rewarding and impactful? 

Jenny Zettler Rhodes: 

There are so many ways to practice nursing, and different practice areas draw nurses for different reasons. In this area, what attracts me, and a lot of our staff, is the ability to form relationships with our children and families, with each other, and with the organization and community that we serve.  

When I go speak about GMCH and our work, a lot of people’s first reaction is to feel sad, sympathy, or to not know what to say.  However, it is my mission to convey how joyful the work is, how much we get to express love daily, and treat our patients and each other as full humans.   

I love to see the children play, and I love to learn the unique way play looks for every child.  

When we, as nurses, experience grief — we make space for that. Because grief and loss are a part of the human condition, and the struggle to make meaning out of pain is some of the most important work we must do as human beings.  

What does the CSU coursework look like?

Jenny Zettler Rhodes: 

The Pediatric Palliative Care Nursing Curriculum coursework is self-guided and consists of modules, or “chapters” that review various aspects of pediatric palliative care: Communication, Interdisciplinary Teamwork, Pain Management, Complex Chronic Conditions, and so forth.  

In our training, nurses have time to spend on these modules, and can see how these concepts apply to a real care environment in our setting. In our open learning environment, these concepts can be processed, discussed, and practiced and so we are hoping to achieve a balance between theoretical and practical knowledge. 

What is your hope for the Pediatric Palliative Care Nursing Education, Training, and Employment program at George Mark Children’s House? 

Jenny Zettler Rhodes: 

I previously worked as a faculty member at the Samuel Merritt University School of Nursing, and during my pediatric and community nursing courses, I would arrange for students to go visit GMCH and observe a day in the life of a nurse here. I too was able to come observe, and like many people, the experience was profound and not one that I would forget.  

GMCH has a rich history of using the tremendous support that it gets from the wider community to support students and learners. I think this new initiative is an extension of that history, and I hope that we can attract new graduates that can bring humility, curiosity, and joy to build meaningful relationships with our team and our families. 


For a list of current clinical opportunities, and to learn more, click this link for more information.