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Meet the Greater Chicago Nursing Excellence winners

The stage was set May 15 for a night of celebration and admiration for the 30 regional finalists of Nursing Spectrum’s 2012 Nursing Excellence program. The stellar event, held at the beautiful Chicago Marriott Schaumburg in Schaumburg, Ill., culminated in the regional awards presentation in which six of the 30 were named regional winners.

The evening was co-hosted by Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and CNE, and Cheryl Portner, RN, MSN, vice president, staff development and training/nurse executive, Greater Chicago for Gannett Healthcare Group, publisher of, who expressed the company’s continued commitment to honoring the many exceptional nurses who can be found in the Greater Chicago area.

“We consider it a true privilege to recognize nursing excellence in this beautiful way,” Williamson said. “We wait with great anticipation for this night all year; truly it is one of the highlights of the year for us at”

During the course of the evening, guest facilities that participated in the Honor Your Own program presented their staff honorees with certificates of appreciation. Each of the 30 Nursing Excellence regional finalists were garnished with a corsage and received a plaque bearing his or her name and regional achievement. Of those 30, six extraordinary nurses were chosen to represent Greater Chicago in the national Nurse Excellence awards to be announced this fall. The six regional winners each received an elegant sail-shaped, metallic, etched glass award to commemorate the evening.


Lydia Dacenko-Grawe

Lydia Dacenko-Grawe, RN, BS, BC-CVRN
Director, Patient Care Services
Saint Francis Hospital, Evanston, Ill.

As the celebratory sounds from Dacenko-Grawe’s colleagues echoed through the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg ballroom, the 2012 Advancing and Leading the Profession winner had a moment of pause.

“In a way, I feel a little selfish because they all deserve awards for everything that we’ve accomplished together,” Dacenko-Grawe said. “I work with them every day. I see how much they put into everything we do. This is a very big surprise.”

Thanks to her guidance, Dacenko-Grawe has overseen plenty of successes, including the hospital’s successful Magnet recognition in 2010.

While serving as Magnet director, Dacenko-Grawe also chairs the hospital’s Evidence-Based Practice/Research and Performance Improvement councils.

Just as colleagues feted her accomplishments during the Nursing Excellence nomination process, Dacenko-Grawe likes to do the same with staff.

“I really love working with the staff nurses,” she said. “I enjoy reflecting what they do back to themselves. They often don’t see how wonderful the things they do are.”

Dacenko-Grawe enjoys sharing compliments about how her nurses handled a difficult patient, resolved an issue or completed a project.

“That, to me, is one of the biggest rewards,” she said.

A strong supporter of education, Dacenko-Grawe leads the Nursing Education department, established the hospital’s annual Certified Nurses Day celebration and was instrumental in developing a multidisciplinary simulation lab, which is used by seven nursing schools and numerous healthcare professionals.

“We’re sharing the wealth with everybody,” she said. “We’re using it for our new grads, but we’re also using it in our annual competency sessions with nurses. We’re seeing a lot of benefits from it.”

Amid the myriad technologies that a hospital offers, Dacenko-Grawe is most in awe of the caring shown by her nurses.

“There’s all this technology around you, and the nurse is that one voice that you want to hear,” she said. “There’s still the human being in the middle of all of the technology.”


Melissa Browning, RN

Melissa Browning, APRN, DNP, CCNS
Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist
Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

Browning stood alone at the podium May 15 as the winner of the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category in Greater Chicago.

She made it clear, however, that the journey to the Nursing Spectrum 2012 Nursing Excellence Award included plenty of company.

“I haven’t done this alone,” said Browning, a clinical nurse specialist in the surgical ICU. “I’m very humbled to have won this award. I think I’m stunned.”

Praised by nurse and physician colleagues for her kindness, caring, skill and leadership, Browning is equally thankful to those around her each day at Rush.

“I really enjoy working with the whole multidisciplinary team … and just making a difference with the care we provide to our patients,” she said. “I appreciate that (my colleagues) are all there because they want to make a difference in the lives of all our patients and the families. They’re always eager and enthusiastic to take on new practices if they know they’re evidence-based and also going to make a difference.”

Her nominator noted that Browning is key to nurses’ development on the unit. Browning regularly mentors SICU preceptors, new orientees and clinical grad students to help them acquire the necessary skills and knowledge in order to offer top-notch care to patients.

In addition, she conducts impromptu inservices on unfamiliar procedures and infrequently used equipment, such as lumbar drains and peritoneal dialysis, while also serving as an education resource when it comes to new technology at the medical center.

Browning has been instrumental in helping the unit achieve a national Beacon Award for Excellence from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. She was the primary author for the SICU’s Beacon application and helped form several unit-based committees, including one dedicated to work on the Beacon process.

“The overall theme of the Beacon is using evidence-based practice and improving patient outcomes,” she said. “I think it shows the story of how we’ve achieved those, and it also highlights how the unit excels in improving patient outcomes and providing the best care possible.”


Catherine Murks, RN

Catherine Murks, RN, PhD, APN, ANP-BC
Nurse practitioner
University of Chicago Medicine

In her daily work for the cardiac transplant service in The Center for Heart Failure Management at the University of Chicago Medicine, Murks cares for a number of critically ill patients.

“It really doesn’t get any bigger than that, as far as I’m concerned,” said Murks, who has worked in her current position since 1997. “You really are able to impact their lives in such a magnificent way. It’s just given me a lot of inspiration over the years.”

Murks aided in the development and implementation of the University of Chicago’s ventricular assist device program and served as its first coordinator. Since she began working with the Center for Heart Failure Management about 15 years ago, the cardiac transplant program has expanded from three patients a year to 30.

She also co-authored the heart failure APN clinic’s patient management protocol and has created hospital unit-specific nursing protocols for all aspects of care for cardiac surgical patients.

In addition to her patient care duties, Murks maintains a passion for education that she shares with others.

“I love teaching patients and students and other nurse practitioners, other nurses,” she said. “I want everybody else to feel the same way I do … and I hope to instill (in) them the same kind of enthusiasm I feel for what I do.”

Being honored by her nursing peers was especially touching for Murks.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Murks said. “It’s very profound.”

Even on her commute to and from work, Murks is helping others.

She is part of a University of Chicago Medicine group called the ForeFront Stitchers. The group knits and crochets shawls for cancer patients, blankets for babies and scarves for women in homeless shelters.

“It helps me relax,” Murks said. “It gives me something to do on the train.”

The hobby is one that Murks often sees the benefits of at work.

“Every time I see a baby leaving the hospital in a baby blanket, I think, ‘Gee, I wonder if that’s one I made?’”


Wilma “Jeannie” Dixon, RN

Wilma “Jeannie” Dixon, RN, MSN, NE-BC
Unit Director
Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

Dixon has seen the state budget’s support of mental health facilities wither in recent years.

But the needs of her patients on the eighth floor of Rush’s Johnston R. Bowman Health Center never have been more important, she said.

“Our resources have decreased so drastically in this state, and this patient population is greatly overlooked,” she said. “People don’t think about mental health. They think about people being sick medically, and they forget about mental health.”

While more state facilities are in danger of closing, Dixon helped Rush expand its services by playing a key role in creating the medical center’s affective disorder unit, where she serves as director. In one year, Dixon helped transform an unused medical unit into a place where inpatient psychiatric patients can heal. She also serves as director of the geriatric psychiatry unit.

“I’m really passionate about them getting the best quality care that they possibly can,” she said. “To me, if you don’t have your mental health, you don’t have anything.”

At the same time she was helping to open the affective disorder unit, Dixon completed her MSN degree. Today, she is working toward a DNP degree in the executive leadership track and serving as a role model for her staff.

“Half of my unit’s in school completing degrees,” she said. “I push my staff and try to instill in them the need to continue their education.”

Dixon said she is passionate about “constant learning,” and working at Rush has inspired her to achieve advanced degrees.

“The more knowledge that you have, you’re better prepared and able to deal with the changing healthcare profession,” she said. “Since I work at a facility that’s really into research and being on the cutting edge, it’s really important for me to be on top of it so I can teach staff as well.”

Those Rush colleagues who cheered loudly when Dixon was announced as the winner were prominent in her acceptance speech.

“I have to say thank you so much to the wonderful staff that work with me at Rush,” Dixon said. “Without them, I could not have been here today. I love you guys.”


Karen Egenes, RN

Karen Egenes, RN, MS, EdD
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Health Promotion, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

Winning the Education and Mentorship category was “affirmation” for Egenes, a veteran educator.

“You hope that you’re making a difference in the lives of students,” she said. “What I like to see is the student growth, for them to be exposed to something and then really get turned on to it.”

By opening students’ eyes to the numerous opportunities in nursing, Egenes is indeed a difference maker.

Active on the state level as co-consultant to the Student Nurses Association of Illinois, Egenes accompanies students to SNAI’s annual Student Nurse Political Action Day in Springfield and also travels with groups to the National Student Nurses Association convention.

Last year’s NSNA trip was particularly memorable.

“There was a student who was thinking about transferring out of nursing,” she said. “The courses were hard. She wasn’t sure if it was for her. We went to the national convention, and she said, ‘I made my decision. This is what I want to do.’ That was really gratifying.”

Egenes also teaches undergraduate and graduate nursing courses and a community health clinical rotation in Surrey, England, which has a strong impact on many students who make the trip. Egenes said a recent visit with a student who made the trip in 2008 confirmed its effect.

“She talked about the impact that it had made on her life,” Egenes said. “She decided she really wanted to become involved in international nursing. She really wants to serve in foreign countries and developing nations. For me, that was validation.”

A passionate history buff, Egenes co-authored the book “Faithfully Yours: A History of Nursing in Illinois” in 2001.

“I think history is important for two reasons,” she said. “It really gives us pride in our heritage. Secondly, many issues in nursing are cyclic in nature. For example, the nursing shortage. It’s interesting to see what approaches were tried and used before and which ones were tried and weren’t that successful, but we might want to bring back and try again.”


Susana Gonzalez, RN

Susana Gonzalez, RN, CNML, MSN/MHA
Director of Perinatal Women’s Services
Vanguard MacNeal Hospital, Berwyn, Ill.

Growing up, Gonzalez didn’t have to look far to see examples of being a good neighbor or a good citizen.

“My mom was a giver,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in a Puerto Rican family of seven daughters. “Mom always had a little bit for everyone when someone needed it. We were always the working poor, but we had enough to share with someone else. It is the love of people. It’s the right thing to do.”

Those values have carried over directly into Gonzalez’s work at MacNeal, where she is the first Hispanic to head the perinatal women’s services department.

An active member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, Gonzalez has touched thousands of lives through dozens of ventures caring for underserved populations in the Greater Chicago area.

Each November, she helps administer flu shots to the homeless. She supervises three free pregnancy testing centers, which offer women resources to receive early prenatal care services. Annually, Gonzalez coordinates numerous community health fairs that thousands of community members attend.

She serves on the board of directors for the Chicago chapter of the March of Dimes and also volunteers on the executive committee of the board of directors of Mujeres Latinas en Accion. The domestic violence social support agency serves more than 5,000 women, families and youths annually.

In addition, Gonzalez works as an advocate for families served by the agency with legislators, community and national groups and financial supporters.

“As a minority woman and as a Latina woman, I value where I come from and my roots,” she said. “I feel it’s part of my mission in life to also serve the people that I mirror.”

While accepting the award, Gonzalez voiced her appreciation of MacNeal standing side by side with her and other healthcare professionals in support of community causes.

“This (award) really belongs to MacNeal,” she said. “They’ve been so supportive of everything we believe in doing for our communities.”

Barry Bottino is a regional editor.


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By | 2021-06-01T11:02:40-04:00 July 16th, 2012|Categories: Nursing Awards|0 Comments

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