Six of the Heartland’s finest nurses were recognized in October as regional winners in their field with NurseWeek Excellence Awards. Winners were nominated by their peers in the categories of Advancing and Leading the Profession, Clinical Care, Community Service, Management, Mentoring, and Teaching.
Hailing from Colorado, Minnesota, and Nebraska, the nurses were chosen from 30 finalists. Finalist nominations were blinded and ranked by a judging panel of regional nursing leaders.
“As a nurse myself, I think we are so focused on our patients and doing our job every day without any recognition that we don’t even assume we need it,” says Margo Karsten, RN, BSN, MSN, PhD, chief operating officer of Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. Karsten helped to nominate Sandra Walters, RN, winner of the regional Community Service award. “I believe it’s really important that we recognize nurses across the country so we can highlight the positive impacts they make on our communities, patients, and families.”
Special honors, such as the Excellence Awards, not only generate more interest in nursing, but also showcase the diversity offered by the career, Karsten says.
“Not many professions that I can think of have as many options,” Karsten says. “I commend [NurseWeek] for calling out each of our subspecialties. To me, that’s what makes nursing exciting. There are different avenues for different talents.”
The six winners say they are thankful for the encouragement they receive from family, friends, and colleagues, who they credit for assisting in their success. Without teamwork, they insist, it would be difficult to serve patients and others as well as they do.
Advancing and Leading the ProfessionChristine Lund, RN
Christine Lund, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, was only 16 when she worked at her first hospital, sterilizing instruments, making dressing packs, and delivering supplies. At 18, she became a nursing assistant and hasn’t looked back since. “That was it,” says Lund, now nurse executive at Minneapolis VA Medical Center. “I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine doing anything different.”
In May, Lund was honored by the Department of Veterans Affairs with a Secretary’s Award for the Advancement of Nursing Programs. She also has been active in implementing all interventions recommended by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s 5 Million Lives Campaign.
“How you work with people is very important to me,” Lund says. “I think I’m fortunate to be in management at a time when people recognize that relationship-based management is better than the pounding on the desk kind of management.”
Lund says she was overwhelmed to learn she was receiving another award this year. “It’s such an honor and a privilege to be in the position I’m in now and to have people recognize my accomplishments,” she says. “For them to submit my name and honor me in that manner is amazing and rewarding. It reflects the way we work together to get things done.”
Clinical CareLinda McSharry, RN
A recent reunion with a former patient reminded Linda McSharry, RN, BSN, why her work at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Neb., is so significant. The patient, now 27, was born premature and spent the first year of her life cared for by McSharry. While visiting the hospital this fall with family members, she asked to see the nurse who had made such a difference in her life.
“Her mom had made a scrapbook of her time at the hospital,” says McSharry. “She knew right away who I was and gave me a big hug.”
A CARES/PACU staff nurse, McSharry started her career at Children’s Hospital in 1980. She helped spearhead the founding of the Bereavement Committee in the early 1990s. The team works to make the grieving process easier for parents and siblings after the loss of a child.
Having the opportunity to care for children is something McSharry considers a privilege. “Kids are amazing,” she says. “They are always honest. They always have so much enthusiasm for life. They take what you give them and say, ‘OK, let’s fight this and let’s move forward’ and they always do it in such a fun way.”
Community ServiceSandra Walters, RN
In 2006, Sandra Walters, RN, took a leap of faith and launched her own nonprofit program to serve breast cancer patients. Two years later, Andre Center for Breast Cancer Education and Navigation in Denver had helped 250 women throughout Colorado, Walters says. The program provides education on treatment options as well as guidance in making decisions after diagnosis.
As the center’s founder and director, Walters says a major part of what she does is ease anxieties about the disease. Her program also helps patients and their families navigate the healthcare system and find necessary resources, such as financial assistance.
“Most women don’t die from breast cancer, and so how they go through hearing their diagnosis and understanding treatment options is going to weigh heavily on their quality of life,” Walters says. “I’m all about ‘Let’s help people have the best quality of life after diagnosis as possible.’ A lot of that is psychological.”
Walters also works as a consultant for the breast program at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. She was recognized in 2007 by Yoplait as one of 25 champions nationwide making extraordinary efforts in the fight against breast cancer.
“It’s all about education, coordination, and navigation,” Walters says. “The tagline for the Andre Center is ‘Education plus navigation plus compassion equals peace of mind.'”
ManagementJudith Sturm, RN
When Judith Sturm, RN, BSN, CCRN, enrolled in nursing school in the 1960s, she had aspirations of working for an airline as a flight attendant. But it didn’t take long for Sturm to realize she actually wanted to be a nurse.
“When you get into nursing, it gets into your heart,” says Sturm, a permanent charge nurse in the ICU at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. “Nursing was not one of my first choices as a career path, but I certainly learned to love it. Every day it’s different because every person you interact with is different. I really like getting to know the patients and their families.”
A two-time Nightingale Award nominee, Sturm says she works to make sure other nurses receive recognition, as well. Her present position allows her to focus not only on management, but also on direct patient care.
“I’ve never chosen to go higher in management because I really enjoy staying close to the patients,” Sturm says. “That way I can see what the staff is truly concerned about and understand their workload. I love doing direct patient care. I don’t ever want to get my hands totally out of it.”
MentoringKim Moore, RN
Kim Moore, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, understands the importance of having a strong mentor. She still remains grateful to the nurse who served as her first mentor early in her career.
“I was mentored as a new leader and it made a world of difference in my career development,” says Moore, now vice president of nursing/chief nursing officer at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb. “I just wanted to give back.”
Moore, who also chairs a shared nursing leadership coordinating council at the hospital, was thrilled to learn she was receiving an award in the category of mentoring.
“I was very surprised and pleased,” she says. “It validates the emphasis on preparing nurses for all areas of practice and supporting them.”
A visit to the hospital at age 4 to have her tonsils removed inspired Moore to become a nurse. “I had a great nurse,” Moore says. “She was fun. She was calming. She came across as being very smart and absolutely loving what she was doing. I love when I can see that throughout my organization. As you walk through the halls, you can see people passionate about what they do.”
TeachingJudy Polson, RN
Judy Polson, RN, a staff nurse in the newborn intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Neb., realizes working in her department can sometimes be emotional. But it also comes with many rewards, which she loves showing to senior nursing students who come to the NICU to work with interns.
“I guess it stems back when I first started nursing,” Polson says. “I had some excellent teachers. I wanted to have the opportunity to help other new nurses who are coming in. It’s kind of hard in the beginning. They’re making the transition from school to real life training.”
Among the rewards Polson shows her students is the way new parents evolve from seeing their babies in incubators to taking home healthy infants.
“They come in here eager to learn,” Polson says of her students. “It’s exciting to see. I enjoy showing them and teaching them what the NICU has to offer. I show them that they can achieve this goal.”
Before joining Children’s Hospital in 2000, Polson served as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force, specializing in labor and delivery.
“I fell in love with the baby part,” Polson says.