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Modern-Day Florence Nightingales

As nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale noted more than 140 years ago, “Nursing is an art.” That statement rang true when the myriad accomplishments of Mountain West nurses were recognized during the regional Nursing Excellence Award gala in Chandler, Ariz.

“These nurses are artists as well as scientists,” said Judith G. Berg, NurseWeek’s vice president of nursing communications & initiatives. “They touch, connect, carve paths, and with skill and courage lay track for those who come after them.”

Nominations for finalists and winners were blinded and ranked by nurses on a panel. The regional winners will be judged against those across the country, with Nurse of the Year winners to be announced at the end of the year.

Berg welcomed the finalists and then the winners to the stage, where they were bathed in the spotlight. “In the words of Nightingale, ‘It is not what we say, what we do or what we appear that has influence on others, but what we are.’ ”

Read about the California winners below, and view photos of the event at View the gallery of this event at

Advancing and Leading the Profession

Sheena Ferguson, RN

Sheena Ferguson, RN, MSN, CCRN, CNS
Chief nursing officer
University of (Albuquerque) New Mexico Hospitals

Ferguson is passionate about nursing, education, students and reflecting the legacy of Florence Nightingale. She has empowered nurses to influence practice change and continues to contribute to the hospital’s Magnet journey by supporting all nurses to practice autonomously and establish a shared-governance model of leadership. Ferguson is a nurse’s nurse. She usually is wearing scrubs so she can stop at a moment’s notice and provide patient care. She was chosen as CNO in 2008, over others with more experience. But Ferguson has the respect of bedside nurses, and she challenges the boundaries of nursing practice.

“I work with the most amazing group of nurses,” Ferguson said. “To be recognized for doing something you love, something as rewarding as nursing, is just so special.”

Clinical Care

Brenda Downs, RN

Brenda Downs, RN, MSN, ACNS-BC
ADT nurse/clinical nurse specialist
Mercy Gilbert (Ariz.) Medical Center

Downs stands out for her unyielding focus on quality outcomes for patients and perseverance in doing the right thing for the right reason. She serves on several hospital committees and teams, where she advocates for evidence-based practice to promote improvement in patient outcomes. Some of Downs’ most recent accomplishments include implementing and chairing the Catholic Healthcare West sepsis initiative, which led to a patient mortality reduction of 54% (saving 10 lives). Downs also chairs the housewide Shared Governance Practice Council.

“All the work done is always geared toward one goal — to make a difference for our patients and make sure they get the best care possible,” Downs said. “It feels great to be recognized, but I am not alone in all the accomplishments, and everyone who supports me deserves accolades as well.”

Community Service

Susan Stelton, RN

Susan Stelton, RN, MSN, ACNS-BC, CWOCN
Clinical nurse specialist
Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix

Stelton is involved in an international wound ostomy continence nursing organization, serving as an officer and teaching nurses and physicians in Turkey, Finland and the United Kingdom. She went to Turkey as a volunteer instructor annually, from 2003 to 2008 to bring the wound, ostomy and continence nursing specialty to nurses. She responded to the call from the Wound Healing Society and the Wound Ostomy Continence Nurses Society in February 2010 for wound care personnel to volunteer in Haiti after the devastating earthquake. Stelton took personal leave to travel to Haiti and work at a university tent hospital complex at the Port-au-Prince Airport.

“I feel incredibly honored to receive this award,” Stelton said. “It never occurred to me that I would receive an award for activities that have, over a number of years, become ‘ordinary’ behavior for me.”


Robin Kirschner, RN

Robin Kirschner, RN, EdD, CPAN, CRN
Senior nurse manager
Banner Desert Medical Center, Mesa, Ariz.

Kirschner successfully co-led an angiography imaging nursing department expansion; collaboratively led the renovation and expansion of the outpatient treatment and infusion center; and is a planner responsible for the renovation of and implementation of a new angiography neuro-biplane project. She empowers nursing to be autonomous in decisions related to the department and staff self-scheduling through shared governance. She supports staff members in their quests to become certified in specialty practice. Currently, 90% of all imaging nurses and 70% of all outpatient treatment and infusion nurses are nationally certified.

“This award represents an acknowledgement of the professional journey and accomplishments of myself, my staff and many others who have provided support and guidance to achieve a cohesive professional workforce,” she said.


Beth Thomas, RN

Beth Thomas, RN, BSN
Registered nurse
Flagstaff (Ariz.) Medical Center

Thomas can help even seasoned nurses learn a lot. She has the qualities that make a good mentor: excellent clinical skills and knowledge; unending patience; warmth; a nurturing personality; and an amazing sense of humor. One of Thomas’ most striking attributes as a mentor is her ability to focus on and add to existing strengths. She handles confrontation, correction and errors in a consistently positive manner, invariably fostering professional growth and learning. Thomas has humility and never flaunts the fact that she is an extremely intelligent and gifted clinician. Instead, she strives to learn from those she teaches.

“I am delighted and humbled to receive such a prestigious award,” Thomas reflected. “I love being a nurse in the neonatal ICU, and to be rewarded for doing what I love is an absolute honor.”


Cathy Kolbe, RN

Cathy Kolbe, RN, BSHA, MSHA
Clinical educator
Tucson (Ariz.) Medical Center

A nurse for more than 30 years, Kolbe offers those she teaches a wealth of experience. She tapped her experience as a bedside to make required education more convenient for the bedside staff. Kolbe did this by arranging to have CPR taught on the unit. While an educator for the ICU, Kolbe organized and taught a critical care course for new hires. This seven-week course brought new nurses’ knowledge up to speed for working in the ICU. Kolbe managed the preceptorship of all the new hires, making sure they were assigned to appropriate staff members.

“I am truly surprised and delighted,” Kolbe said. “It was especially nice that I could receive the award with my co-workers and parents present. It is very special.”

By | 2020-04-15T14:26:26-04:00 September 13th, 2010|Categories: Regional, West|2 Comments

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  1. Avatar
    Michael Sheehan September 25, 2016 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    To Whom it may concern,

    I am a student at Ashford University and am wishing to speak with Beth Thomas. I am writing, or more importantly, dying to learn more about Reactive Attachment Disorder. Beth is a very unique soul, and to be honest. She’s a freaking badass!! I mean it. Just trying to get in contact with her for her side of the story. If not, I completely understand, but dude, Really. She’s like the foremost expert in this field. Whatever, I’m going to write this paper with or without you, this sucks though. Come on Beth, lets go! You are the badasses of all badasses. OKay, you’re always going to be my inspiration. 100.

  2. Avatar
    Linda Rosa RN August 11, 2017 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    My opinions follow: Beth Thomas, RN, promotes “Attachment Disorder” (AD), a diagnosis that is not recognized or defined in the DSM, as well as Attachment (Holding) Therapy and her adoptive mother’s parenting methods (Nancy Thomas parenting). All of these practices have been denounced as inappropriate for all children and potentially dangerous by APSAC, the American Psychological Association’s Division on Child Maltreatment, and other national mental health professional organizations. Beth Thomas promotes these practices with lectures and the sales of her materials through the Colorado business Families by Design.

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