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Meet the Philadelphia Tri-State Nursing Excellence GEM Award winners

Each year, a national search is held to find the most exceptional nurses in the U.S. Nurses from across the country are nominated by colleagues. This year, continues its tradition of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of these dedicated nurses at regional awards galas held throughout the United States, the culmination of which results in the naming of six special nurses as 2013 Nursing Excellence GEM awardees. In each region, five remarkable nurses in six specialized categories were chosen from the hundreds of nominations received.

“Our program has a sparkly new look and a shiny new name,” said Donna Novak, RN, DNP, CRNP, director and nurse executive, Philadelphia Tri-State region. “The GEM Awards are our way of publicly recognizing excellence in nursing by awarding nurses who were nominated, selected and celebrated by other nurses, and who represent the best of the best in our profession. It is our privilege to honor them.”


Norine Watson

Norine Watson
Director of nursing excellence
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, Del.

Sometimes Watson wonders what it would be like to work in a position, and in a place, where everything is done the same way it was done the day before.

But Watson has a position that does not allow for such thinking. And she said that is one thing she hopes
never changes.

“It’s exhausting sometimes,” Watson said. “But this job allows me to do the work I love, focusing on the very best things happening in nursing.”

For the last eight years, Watson’s work has focused on leading her hospital through the process of achieving Magnet designation with the American Nurses
Credentialing Center.

The process, which ended successfully in 2012, was long and exacting, requiring a group effort among all at the hospital.

But the effort was invaluable to improving the hospital and in helping Watson build programs and structure to fulfill her overarching purpose at Nemours – to develop and maximize the nursing talent at the pediatric hospital.
For her work, Watson was recognized as the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Advancing and Leading the Profession category.

Watson has worked as a nurse for more than 30 years, tracing her desire to be a nurse to her experience as an expectant mother and marveling at the “brilliant and helpful” nurses she experienced, particularly at a Lamaze childbirth class.

However, Watson said, the best eight years of her career have come in the last eight years, helping Nemours achieve Magnet status and improving nursing excellence programs at the hospital, leading the hospital’s 20-member nursing professional development team.

Her nominator lauded Watson for “visionary skills in building and developing high-functioning teams” and for work through which “she builds trust and promotes professionalism.” The nominator noted Watson has served as a mentor to “hundreds of nurses.”

The nominator pointed to objective criteria, as well, noting that Watson’s programs have helped boost nurse satisfaction scores, nursing educational achievements to astounding levels and satisfaction levels for patients and families at Nemours.

“If the measure of a nurse leader’s success is the ability to elevate others, this nominee is clearly in a class by herself,” the nominator wrote.

Watson said she was flattered to be nominated for the award and said actually winning the award was “the biggest surprise of my life.”

“There’s been a lot of happy moments here since we achieved Magnet,” Watson said. “And this is one more.”


Kristine Longo

Kristine Longo
Staff nurse
Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, Malvern, Pa.

For Longo, nursing is about a journey. As a staff nurse on the brain injury rehabilitation unit, Longo has sought not only to further her professional journey, but also to help those who have suffered life-altering brain injuries chart a new and better course on their own personal journeys.

Longo was recognized as the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category.

“Being a rehabilitation nurse, it is my privilege to be on this journey, along with my patients and families, to improve cognitive and physical limitations after a brain injury, thus improving their quality of life,” Longo said. “I do what I do because I love it.”

For the last 25 years, Longo has worked at Bryn Mawr. She said she was encouraged even as a student nurse to aspire to management.

“But I always knew that my true passion was as a bedside nurse with true patient care,” Longo said.

In that role, Longo regularly works with patients who have “low levels of cognition, who are medically compromised, requiring complex care and aggressive treatment plans,” according to a letter nominating her for the excellence award.

The letter notes that Longo creates a treatment plan for each patient and then follows through with the treatment team.

Longo was lauded in the letter for her “calm demeanor, caring attitude and positive outlook.” The nominator noted that those traits “create an environment where a trusting relationship is developed so that patients and their families feel safe and well-cared-for.

“The nominee empowers patients and families with encouragement and hope,” the nominator wrote.

Longo also serves as an educator, speaking publicly on the care for patients with brain injuries and helping train nurses new to the profession and the hospital “better understand the care of complex patients with brain injuries,” according to the nomination letter.

Longo also was cited for her work to initiate and lead a project for implementing a new patient hydration program at the hospital for patients on aspiration precautions. The nomination letter noted Longo’s efforts resulted in decreased incidences of aspiration pneumonia and improved oral hygiene among patients on her unit.

The hospital is scheduled to roll out the program to other units later this year, the nominator wrote.

Longo said she was “most grateful for the award,” noting the award was “above and beyond my expectations.

“I love having that happy ending to a patient’s story and knowing that I had a part in that,” Longo said.


Stephanie C. Pennington

Stephanie C. Pennington
Staff nurse, newborn/infant ICU
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

For the last eight years, Pennington has served as a member of her hospital’s clinical resource team, taking on the role of preceptor and hands-on teacher to many nurses at the hospital.

In May, her service earned her recognition as the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Education and Mentorship category.

Pennington has worked as a nurse since 1997. Since 1999 she has served as a bedside nurse in the newborn/infant ICU at CHOP.

Pennington said her professional journey began at age 12, when she observed the enthusiasm with which friends of her parents — who had recently brought home a baby born two months prematurely — spoke of the nursing care their newborn had received.

“At 12, this specialty of neonatology I hardly knew even existed before was suddenly all I wanted to do,” Pennington said.

In the years since, Pennington has added to her ability in bedside care with an equal commitment to excellence in raising up new generations of nurses to continue the work.

“I believe formal classes and educational opportunities are critical for staff development — opportunities some of my fellow nominees were instrumental in creating,” Pennington said. “But I also believe there is nothing more precious than the teaching that takes place between the experienced nurse and the novice nurse directly at the bedside.”

Her fellow nurses spoke glowingly of Pennington’s commitment to teaching and mentoring. In a letter explaining her nomination,

Pennington was lauded as proactive, responsive, an ideal role model and a passionate champion for her colleagues and the unit.

Working the night shift, Pennington is often called upon by the less-experienced nurses for guidance on a wide variety of aspects of
care, her nominator wrote.

“She is often called to the bedside before the call to the front-line clinician, for reassurance, help with problem solving, and most often, the answer to the question, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” the nominator wrote.

Pennington said she was honored and humbled to win the award.

“Individual recognition is difficult to translate into our culture of practice,” she said. “Winning this award was, without a doubt, an incredible surprise because, as nurses, we are all teachers.”


Tracy Swartz

Tracy Swartz
Clinical manager/trauma educator
Hahnemann University Hospital, Philadelphia

For the past few years, Swartz has created and grown a conference specifically designed to bring together three groups of healthcare professionals – trauma care practitioners, emergency care providers and emergency medical service personnel.

The effort had languished for years. But since Swartz took it on two years ago, the collaboration-boosting program has blossomed, improving the hospital and local emergency response agencies in and around Philadelphia and surrounding communities.

For her work, Swartz was recognized as the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Home, Community and Ambulatory Care category.

Swartz, who comes from a long line of nurses, said she was steered into trauma and emergency care by her love for the TV show, “MASH,” and her experiences in a real MASH unit in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Even today as the director I can’t help but find myself jumping into patient care — especially traumas — because I love it,” Swartz said.

After 13 years in nursing, Swartz came to work at Hahnemann two years ago as the trauma educator and outreach coordinator at the hospital, often traveling into the community, talking with the public and EMS on injury prevention. Soon after, she became clinical manager within Hahnemann’s ED.

She said the combination of those experiences put her in the perfect position to bring to life the hospital’s desire to cultivate relationships between its emergency and trauma departments and EMS.

In 2011, Swartz organized the first conference involving the hospital departments and local EMS, offering training, educational and networking opportunities for all in attendance. The event was well attended, and, in 2012, attendance increased sharply. More are expected this year, as well.

“Too often in healthcare you see silos within departments all working hard but few working together,” Swartz said. “I think that having the role in the trauma department and transitioning into the ED helped me not only recognize the need, but also develop and foster the relationships between the two departments.”

Those nominating Swartz noted that her efforts have reached thousands of community members and have “greatly improved the image of the hospital within the community.”

Swartz said she ranks this award among “one of the top accomplishments” of her career.

“The feedback I have received has been great and I can see how the teams both inside and outside of the hospital have come together to provide great care for the patients in our area,” Swartz said. “To me, that is priceless.”


Michele Otto

Michele Otto
Clinical nurse 4
Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Otto often has been asked how it is she hasn’t gone into management.

The answer is simple, she said.

“I really enjoy being a staff nurse,” Otto said. “I like taking care of patients and having that interaction with them at the bedside.”

Otto received the 2013 Nursing Excellence GEM award in the Patient and Staff Management category.

“I feel like I am able to be a leader on the unit and still stay by the bedside and take care of my patients,” Otto said.

For the past 14 years, Otto has served as a nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently, for the last five years she has served as a leader of the Rhoads 1 unit, a 24-bed unit specializing in vascular and plastic microsurgery care.

In her role, Otto has been recognized both for her skillful orchestration of the unit without a formal management title and for her leadership by example.

As the senior nurse on staff, Otto has taken on the duty of scheduling the 63 nurses and nursing assistants on the unit.

But she also leads in practice.

The co-worker who nominated her for the excellence award noted that Otto not only achieved the rank of clinical nurse 4, the highest level a bedside nurse can achieve, but also became the first nurse in her unit to become a progressive care nurse. Since then, 10 other nurses on the unit have achieved the certification.

Otto also allowed a less-experienced nurse to audit her charting to set the standard of peer review and accountability. And when Otto was selected to serve as chairperson of the Quality and Patient Safety Committee at the hospital, she became one of only four nurses — out of a pool of 2,600 in her health system — to run such a hospitalwide committee.

The co-worker nominating Otto described her as “one of the strongest, most effective and humblest leaders I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

“We all follow Michelle Otto, not because we have to, but because we all strive to be more like her.”


John H. Cibenko
Specialty team supervisor, orthopedics
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia

Cibenko doesn’t need any more inspiration to keep pursuing his passion of helping those in need. But what he may need are a few more pages in his passport, as that passion drives him to hop dozens of flights around the world annually to work with teams bringing medical care to those in need.

“I guess I just really have a heart for helping those in need,” Cibenko said. “And nursing is a really good profession to be able to do that in.”

That spirit and the actions that have sprung from it are what led Cibenko to be recognized as the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Volunteerism and Service category.

For the past decade, Cibenko has worked as a nurse. But what Cibenko loves most about his job – and about his life as an American – is the opportunity to help those in need.

That commitment to service began as a child, he said, instilled by his parents and reinforced by his faith.
It continued, prompting him at one time to quit his nursing job to help found a children’s orthopedic hospital in Kenya and teach nursing in East Africa.

And it has since prompted Cibenko to serve on almost 40 medical missions on almost every continent, traveling to impoverished areas throughout the world.

In the past year, Cibenko has taken 27 trips to assist with medical projects throughout the world, primarily working with Operation Walk Chicago, an organization providing hip and knee replacements for
impoverished patients.

Cibenko said the volunteer work has granted him a new outlook, as he sees the world through the eyes of people like a woman in Nepal too crippled to climb up into her bed or a 12-year-old boy in Kenya who had been forced to walk with a cane his whole life.

Cibenko said he has dedicated himself in the past year to also increasing his service in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the U.S., volunteering at local soup kitchens and serving at local clinics.

“I’ve seen that I don’t need to travel halfway around the world to find people to help,” he said. “I can just walk down my street.”

Nominators praised his dedication to nursing and to service.

“To say that the nominee is an unsung hero is an understatement,” they wrote.

Cibenko said he was humbled to receive the award.

“It’s very humbling to be given an award for something I love to do every day,” he said.

By | 2020-04-15T09:10:00-04:00 June 3rd, 2013|Categories: Philadelphia/Tri-State, Regional|0 Comments

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