In 2021, Lahey Hospital & Medical Center community was thrilled to receive a remarkable $10 million gift from the family of the late Jean Cunningham, MSN, BSN, RN. A beloved Lahey nursing leader, Cunningham had an extraordinary 40-year career at the hospital. The transformational gift established the Jean Cunningham Department of Nursing in her memory and is the first to name a department at Lahey.

“Jean was a force of nature—completely devoted to her patients, her hospital, and her fellow nurses. She stopped at nothing to advance quality,” says the donor. “Honoring her legacy now at a time when nurses are so fatigued by the pandemic is particularly meaningful. We are excited to partner with the institution to which Jean dedicated her entire career to advance our shared vision for the future of nursing.”

First joining LHMC in 1980 when the hospital opened its Burlington location, Cunningham embodied what nursing excellence means at Lahey for the duration of her career. “Jean was a part of the fabric of LHMC,” says Chief Nursing Officer Tracy Galvin, MSN, RN, of her longtime colleague. “For decades, Jean was an admired leader and role model, upholding our core principles of respect, caring, teamwork, and excellence. This generous gift is truly a celebration of all Lahey nurses and will further promote our team’s growing national reputation.” Galvin is the first incumbent of the Jean Cunningham Chair in Nursing, established by this gift to provide essential, ongoing resources to support continuing education and engagement efforts for Lahey’s more than 1,500 highly skilled nurses and nursing assistants.

The heroic efforts of nurses, particularly during the pandemic, also inspired the donor to give back. And already, these funds are accelerating vital advancements for nurses at LHMC and reflecting Cunningham’s reverence for lifelong learning, training, and skill development. The flexible support is funding a host of initiatives, including scholarships for nurses pursuing additional degrees and certifications, as well as programs to recruit and retain a diverse and talented workforce—an imperative as the national demand for nurses grows. This philanthropic commitment has significantly expanded the resources available for career development and will offer training for nurses that research has demonstrated leads to improved clinical practice and patient outcomes.

Jean Cunningham’s family’s generosity comes at a pivotal time as LHMC moves ahead on its journey to achieve Magnet status. As the highest possible nursing designation awarded to hospitals, Magnet recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center demonstrates outstanding patient care, nursing excellence, and innovations in professional nursing practice. Attaining Magnet status will be a well-deserved reflection of Lahey’s dedication to providing compassionate and evidence-based care.

This historic gift stands as a remarkable commitment to supporting and training the next generation of nurses. It also stands as a testament to Cunningham’s enduring impact. “Seeing Jean’s name on the wall, welcoming us all to the Jean Cunningham Department of Nursing, is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement,” says Galvin. “Over her four decades of devoted service to patients, families, and communities, Jean laid the foundation for the high-quality nursing for which Lahey is known.” Now, this tremendous gift is allowing the hospital to build upon that foundation, propelling Lahey’s vision for the future of nursing and honoring Cunningham’s powerful legacy.