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Meet the DC/Maryland/Virginia 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 Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN,’s senior vice president and CNE.

“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.”


Paula R. Graling, RN

Paula R. Graling, RN, DNP, CNOR, CNS
Clinical nurse specialist, perioperative services
Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, Falls Church, Va.

Not every patient who goes under the knife will receive care directly from Graling. But thanks to her efforts on making ORs safer for everyone involved, Graling’s work will give her a presence in ORs long after she has retired.

“The best analogy is that it should mimic what happens in an aircraft cockpit before takeoff,” Graling said. “We’re putting the same systems into place in very busy operating rooms to reduce errors and improve patient safety. Because the patient is at the heart of everything we do.”

For her work, Graling was the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Advancing and Leading the Profession category.

Graling has served as a nurse since 1982. Her desire to work as a nurse began as a teenager after observing the care she received after a surgery.

“It was a really compassionate and caring nurse who took care of me,” Graling said. “Plus, I really like science, so this was a natural fit for me.”

In the three decades since, Graling said, her commitment to nursing has remained strong. She has climbed through the ranks to become a leading voice among perioperative nurses. In 2006-07, Graling served as president of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. She currently serves as president of the association’s charitable arm, the AORN Foundation.
Graling’s professional research has focused on improving patient welfare, and she has published papers and journal articles discussing methods to reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes.

Graling said she particularly was proud of her work through AORN since 2008 to lead the work of developing guidelines to improve and increase the use of preop checklists.

Those nominating Graling noted her work to draft guidelines to improve fire safety and to help develop the first evidence-based rating method for perioperative nursing practice as a member of the AORN Evidence-Based Practice Committee.

“These examples of Paula’s dedication to a greater scientific basis for patient care reflect the sophistication of a clinician scholar respected and admired by her nursing colleagues and her [healthcare] associates,” her nominators wrote.


Kelly Ann Turner, RN

Kelly Ann Turner, RN, ADN
Staff nurse
Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore

Turner played a large role in reducing the rate of preventable infections in her unit. And such work and leadership by example is why Turner was recognized as the recipient of the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category.

“I have spent the majority of my career at the bedside, and so I can’t think of a greater recognition than to be awarded for clinical excellence,” Turner said. “This is an unbelievable honor.”

Turner has worked in nursing at Johns Hopkins Bayview for more than two decades. She said she came to nursing first because she regularly would see pages of advertisements for job openings for nurses. But the job has since engaged her more than she ever could have imagined.

“Twenty-plus years later, I can’t imagine being anything other than a nurse,” Turner said.

Working on the MICU at Bayview, Turner has stepped into leadership, according to her nominator. As part of a statewide initiative, Turner served as a team leader of a program at the hospital to reduce central line-associated bloodstream infections. At the time of the nomination, the Bayview MICU had not suffered a bloodstream infection in 300 days, her nominator wrote.

Turner’s leadership comes through the example she sets each day on the job, her nominator wrote, as she not only religiously washes her own hands, but encourages her fellow healthcare professionals working on her unit to do the same.

“I often can hear Kelly from my office, standing at a patient’s doorway, stating, ‘I’m gellin’,’ as she enters and exits the patient’s room,” her nominator wrote. “She tactfully does not hesitate to let someone … know that they could compromise the patient’s care by not completing proper hand hygiene.”

Turner also earns the respect of her coworkers daily through her work ethic, according to her nominator.

“Kelly Turner is the role model for a critical care nurse,” her nominator wrote.


Joan Insalaco Warren, RN

Joan Insalaco Warren, RN-BC, PhD, NEA-BC
Director of nursing research
MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, Baltimore

Warren has been fueled throughout much of her career by a desire to improve patient care through research. But for Warren, that passion also extends to helping other nurses do the same thing.

“What we’re all about here is improving patient care,” Warren said. “And the best way I know how to do that is by advancing the workforce and building the knowledge base.”

And that commitment to not only being a great researcher, but working to inspire her fellow nurses was one of the reasons Warren received the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Education and Mentorship category.

Warren’s history as a nurse, educator, researcher and leader is long. She began working as a nurse in the late 1970s, a career that began when she entered nursing school at the urging of peers and a calling that was cemented when her father suffered a major heart attack shortly after her formal nursing education began.

“It went from being a suggestion to a passion,” she said.

Since that moment, Warren said, she has dedicated herself to finding ways to increase nursing and healthcare knowledge and then translating that knowledge to patient care.

At MedStar Franklin Square, she has established programs and partnerships with other hospitals and schools and has obtained more than $2 million in state grants to help her fellow nurses engage in research.

“What sets this nominee apart from others is her ability to motivate nurses to advance in their profession whether through formal education, certification or use of evidence-based practice and/or research,” her coworkers wrote in nominating Warren for the award.

Warren said she is most proud of her work advancing nurses in their formal education, which she said has resulted in at least 40 additional nurses with masters’ degrees working in area hospitals through a program that now includes multiple hospitals in Maryland.

She said the nursing excellence award is among the top recognitions she has received during her career.

“To be honored by your peers like this, it’s just so humbling, and something I take pride in,” Warren said. “I have a passion for my profession, and I love what I do, so this for me is something very meaningful.”


Mary Alice Vanhoy, RN

Mary Alice Vanhoy, RN, MSN, CEN, CPEN, NRP
Nurse manager
Shore Health System — Queen Anne’s Emergency Center, Queenstown, Md.

In August 2011, as Hurricane Irene brought the Chesapeake Bay nearly to the doorstep of the at-the-time brand new Queen Anne’s Emergency Center, Vanhoy started to sweat a bit.

“That was our first real test on how we’d survive,” Vanhoy said. “The Bay Bridge was closed. We were the only healthcare provider for many miles around. And here we were in this building that had just opened a few months earlier.”

But, just as Vanhoy’s leadership had helped guide the Queen Anne’s facility into existence, so, too, did her leadership help steer the facility through that storm. And that brand of leadership played a role in Vanhoy receiving the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Home, Community and Ambulatory Care category.

Vanhoy said her career as an emergency nurse began at age 6, when, as a girl growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, she witnessed a rollover car crash that claimed the lives of the young occupants of the vehicle.

“I realized even then, it was all unnecessary,” Vanhoy said. “They didn’t have to die.”

As an adult, Vanhoy eventually grew to take on a dual role as both a nurse and an EMT. Her 34-year career eventually brought her to Shore Health System in Easton, Md., where she worked as the emergency nurse educator at the Memorial Hospital of Easton. But in 2008, her career took a different turn, as Vanhoy took on the task of spearheading the creation of the freestanding emergency medical facility where she now works.

Working with state lawmakers, county officials and others, Vanhoy lobbied to rewrite laws and revamp highways to create the facility. She then helped oversee construction and personally recruited her staff.

Queen Anne’s opened in October 2010.

“It’s been kind of like birthing a baby for five years,” Vanhoy said. “But it’s been worth it, because, to me, this is just providing service to your neighbors.”

Those who nominated Vanhoy said she was richly deserving of recognition for her work at Queen Anne’s and elsewhere.

“To separate the emergency department nurse from the manager or even from the person is next to impossible when describing Vanhoy,” her nominators wrote. “All of these skills and traits make Vanhoy a visionary leader who is at the top of her craft.”


Susan H. Kraeuter, RN

Susan H. Kraeuter, RN, BSN, MS
Patient care manager
Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore

Kraeuter didn’t develop her management techniques to address standing-room only crowds. But so effective has her approach to management been that Kraeuter, patient care manager overseeing the medical and cardiac ICUs, has come to find such crowds awaiting her during monthly staff meetings.

Her effectiveness at not only managing but inspiring those nurses who work under her supervision helped Kraeuter receive the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Patient and Staff Management category.

Kraeuter has worked in nursing for almost 35 years, coming to the profession early on.

“It definitely was a calling,” she said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do since I was a teenager.”

After years of management experience, Kraeuter began to oversee the MICU and CICU at Bayview three years ago.

She said the award represents the highest honor of her career.

“I am very honored that I was nominated by the staff,” Kraeuter said.

Her nominators described her as a manager who defines leadership in all aspects of the word.

“This nominee requests extraordinary work from her staff,” her nominators wrote. “At the same time, [she] unwaveringly functions at or above the same level. This nominee is the epitome of leading by example and has gained the respect of her staff.”

The nominators particularly lauded Kraeuter for creating open channels of communication with the nurses working under her supervision, as well as for her efforts to treat her nurses as people, not just workers, noting “she somehow manages to send each of her staff a birthday card (on time) to their home address” and makes time “to attend every baby shower, every farewell party, etc.”

But Kraeuter also sets high standards and has ambitious goals, and she inspires her fellow nurses to achieve them.

Her nominators noted that her efforts have resulted in the creation and execution of programs to greatly reduce the incidences of bloodstream infections in both ICUs under her care, while also prompting previously disinterested staff members to become professionally active and present at various conferences.

“She is a leader that anyone would want to emulate,” her nominators wrote. “The nursing profession has been elevated to a better place because of the efforts of this nominee and will continue to progress under her passionate guidance.”


Julie Warner, RN

Julie Warner, RN, MSN, NE-BC
Patient care director
Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, Alexandria, Va.

When Warner came to nursing in her early 30s, she vowed that she wouldn’t waste another day on a career that didn’t benefit the world around her.

“I asked myself, ‘If I die tomorrow, what have I done to make a difference?’” Warner said. “So I went to nursing school.”

In the 21 years since, Warner has remained true to that commitment, dedicating her life to not only improving patient care at her home hospital, but on improving lives in the U.S. and Latin America by giving those suffering from degenerated or damaged joints the chance to walk again, for free.

And it is that dedication to service that helped Warner to receive the 2013 Nursing Excellence award in the Volunteerism and Service category.

For the last 15 years, Warner has worked at Inova Mount Vernon. In that time, she has developed a reputation as a leader and a giver. Warner oversees multiple nursing units at the hospital, including med/surg, total joint replacement and inpatient rehabilitation.

In that role, she has earned the admiration of those with whom she works, according to the coworker who nominated her for the nursing excellence award.

Warner routinely fills in where needed on her units. And in the last seven years, she has distinguished herself as team leader at Operation Walk Virginia, a charitable organization that each year organizes trips to impoverished countries in Central and South America to provide about 50 no-cost joint replacement operations to needy people there.

For Operation Walk Virginia, Warner serves as “the go-to” resource for the trips, recruiting the team and arranging for all of their needs while on the trip.

“If anything goes wrong, they say, ‘Find Julie, she’ll fix it,’” Warner said. “Generally, I drive the boat.”

“Julie coordinates the entire mission,” her nominator wrote, “down to the last syringe. From collecting donations to help fund the excursions to coordinating every last aspect of the trip, Julie is steadfast.”

Warner also organizes similar operations for 10 needy people in and around Alexandria, Va., each year.

Warner said she was thrilled to receive the nursing excellence award, if for no other reason than to bring more exposure to the mission.

Jonathan Bilyk is a freelance writer.

By | 2020-04-15T09:09:34-04:00 July 2nd, 2013|Categories: DC/MD/VA, Regional|0 Comments

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