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, Nurse.com 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, Nurse.com’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.”
Advancing and Leading the Profession
Adeline M. Nyamathi, RN, ANP, PhD, FAAN
UCLA School of Nursing, Los Angeles
Adeline Nyamathi’s research and her passion for justice and equity meld perfectly with her dynamic teaching role at the UCLA School of Nursing, where she tells stories about her work in India to improve the quality of life for rural women.
“Stories are a way of engaging students and making the lectures memorable,” she said. “Students are engaged in listening because they want to be involved in international work. This is how I ignite their passion in the classroom.
“I think students need nurturing as well as motivating to become the future leaders of our profession. It’s our mandate to challenge them to become future leaders by becoming scholars first.”
What Nyamathi wants her students to walk away with are the skills to engage the world around them, to be passionate about a cause and to be exposed to the events going on globally.
Nyamathi said her teaching role includes getting students to travel to other nations, such as Cuba or Mexico, to interact with different groups of people and find the needs of those who are vulnerable to help them. This kind of opportunity is part of their education, she believes, and it also serves to motivate students to do scholarly work.
While inspiring students in all levels of nursing education to become involved in global health, Nyamathi said her own inspiration in nursing came from the faculty under whom she studied, both as an undergraduate student and then in her master’s program.
She advises students and nurses to get involved in volunteer work. “If a student can volunteer and be part of a research team, seeing how it’s done, that will motivate many to go into higher education.” Finding a mentor also can help. “We don’t think we’re capable of doing some of these [higher level] things, but when you have a mentor, you will find yourself aspiring to go higher.”
As UCLA’s School of Nursing’s Distinguished Professor, Nyamathi certainly earned the GEM award for Advancing and Leading the Profession. However, she found herself shocked when her name was announced. “The other candidates were just fabulous, and I had already picked who I thought was the winner!”
Clinical Nursing, Inpatient
Katherine Madsen, RN, MSN, CNS, ANP, ACHPN
Palliative care coordinator and nurse practitioner
Memorial Medical Center, Modesto, Calif.
Even though she had no special interest in palliative care when she was recruited to her current position as palliative care coordinator, Katherine Madsen eventually had an epiphany. “I love this more than anything I’ve done in nursing,” she said. Spurring on her efforts to develop the palliative care program at Memorial Medical Center is her understanding that people need a champion to help them navigate the medical system.
“I could see that patients and families need a support system and help deciphering what is happening to them,” she said. Palliative care allows patients to really think about what they want in their healthcare situation, empowering them to achieve the outcomes they want given their particular diagnosis.
Madsen’s mother, a nurse for 30 years, was her initial inspiration. “She told me that she looked at nursing not as a job, but as a privilege because people open themselves up to you and let you into their lives.”
Having established a successful palliative care program that is developing an outpatient component, she has been a motivational force among nurses at her hospital — recruiting two nurses from each unit in the hospital to be her representatives to advocate for patients and identify those who would benefit from palliative care.
“I’ve been excited to see nurses’ responses to this idea,” she said. “In critical care, eight nurses have stepped forward.”
Madsen also has made inroads in educating staff, including physicians, that palliative care is not just hospice care. “We’re about managing patients’ symptoms and giving them a better quality of life. If we can become involved with them earlier in their treatment, we can have a more positive impact.”
Her strong commitment to nursing and to patients through palliative care has influenced countless patients, families and staff. Still, Madsen wasn’t expecting to win the GEM award for Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category. Based on the biographies and accomplishments of the other people up for the award, she had pretty much decided she wasn’t going to win. “I’d just told my husband, ‘Don’t be surprised when I don’t win,’ and then they called my name. My mouth just dropped open.”
Education and Mentorship
Kathleen Adlard, RN, MS, CNS, CPON
Clinical nurse specialist, oncology
CHOC Children’s Hospital, Orange, Calif.
Kathleen Adlard’s interest in teaching was evident long before she became involved in education and mentorship, the category in which she was selected a GEM winner. “When I was in training as an LVN, another student told me that when she asked me a question, I was able to explain the answer to her more clearly than the instructors. I can see now that the [teaching] skill was there a long time ago.”
Adlard is still constantly asking and answering questions, both to further her own education and to boost the skills and knowledge of nurses who work with her. She learned to ask those probing inquiries as a traveling nurse where she first realized the need to continually ask questions in order to keep developing as a proficient professional.
“As long as your mind is open to learning, there’s no end to it [learning or questioning]. I always want to learn more, and then I want to help those around me learn. My job is to make sure that those around me know as much as I do about patient care, diagnoses, treatment.”
Adlard said she knows she’s succeeding in teaching and mentoring when staff she works with are able to answer others’ questions as well as she could. “My role as a clinical nurse specialist is that I have a certain level of knowledge, but I get more joy out of having other nurses know as much as I know,” she said. “You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room.”
Her vision for nursing follows that same path. “I don’t want nurses just taking practice for granted. Some things we do in nursing are done the way we’ve always done them, but aren’t based on evidence.” She prompts nurses to ask why a certain practice is done, then gives nurses the resources to find the answers. “I’m excited when a nurse wants to see the evidence for a new practice we’re starting.”
Her propensity for inquiry has created her own thirst for research. “I’m constantly seeing great research questions,” she said. When a research project based at another facility needed a nurse’s input, Adlard became CHOC’s first principle investigator for the study about pain experiences in children with leukemia. She’s considering doctoral studies but with firm plans to stay in the clinical arena.
Home, Community and Ambulatory Care
Ava Marie Chavez, RN, WCC
Senior comprehensive care RN
Orange County Health Care Agency/Correctional Health Services, Santa Ana, Calif.
Ava Marie Chavez first worked in correctional care as an LVN many years ago. So after getting her RN license, it wasn’t a big step to return to the field. “I do it for the love of it. We [nurses] are the only advocates for our patients in the jail setting. The patients are easy to educate, and I feel like I really belong there.”
Her love for her work demonstrates itself in her drive to go beyond standard nursing care to create the first jail-based wound care team. Before entering nursing, Chavez was an aesthetician, “so my love for skin was already there,” she explained. Having focused on wound care while working at another facility, she recognized the need and potential for this service within the jail population. The two LVNs who work with her were already wound certified, but no wound care protocols had been established.
“In the jail, wounds are often so far gone; many of our patients have had no wound care treatment, even though many are insulin-dependent diabetics or amputees.” Chavez’s commitment to quality patient care resulted in a formal wound care team, including education for staff on how to use wound care products.
Chavez said she has always wanted to be a nurse. Her aunt, a nurse who worked in research, also inspired her.
In addition to encouraging her co-workers to go the extra step in caring for the 7,000 men and women in Orange County’s five correctional facilities, Chavez also seeks to positively influence high school students and battered women in community shelters.
“I try to motivate them, especially those who are disadvantaged, to get out of their situation and get where they want to go. I tell them, ‘Don’t act like a victim. You can [reach your dream].’ Sometimes I have a chance to talk one-on-one with a female inmate, and I tell them the same thing: ‘You can change your situation, and the change begins with you.'”
To other nurses working in correctional health, Chavez advises they try to make changes to improve patient care even if they run into roadblocks at first.Chavez is living proof her advice works. “Having those letters behind my name has changed my life,” she said about earning the wound care certification.
Patient and Staff Management
Glenn D. Pascual, RN, DHSc, MSN, OCN
KPH director of inpatient care service/department, administrator 4West Telemetry/Observation
Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills (Calif.)
A seasoned manager who personifies a culture of change, Glenn Pascual started working in management when he was 21 and living in England. Since then, “I’ve learned from every experience. Education is the backbone of one’s experience; you get a lot of theoretical knowledge and it all culminates when you put it into practice,” he said.
Receiving the GEM award for Patient and Staff Management has been very fulfilling for him. “When outside leaders recognize me as a nurse leader, I feel so good about it.”
Pascual said he leads by example. “I model the behavior I want to see. It’s easier to explain something and then model it. I do it with [staff], whatever it is, and that makes is easier for them. I don’t sit in my office; I get my hands dirty with the staff. They say, ‘It’s so hard to get lazy in front of your boss, because if he scrubs the bed, how can I not do it?'” The fact his staff recognizes his efforts gives Pascual the motivation to go to work each morning.
Nursing is not static under Pascual’s management. “My practice behavior tells me to innovate and make changes. I believe we live in exponential times, that everything changes and multiples so fast. If you don’t change, you won’t be able to succeed and get results.”
His inspiration throughout his career has been his grandmother, for whom he has deep respect. “She taught me to always see the positive in people. She gave me the skill of loving people. When I look into the faces of patients, I see my grandmother, which motivates me to do well and give every person excellent care.”
Achieving the highest patient satisfaction goals is another of Pascual’s accomplishments. Scores consistently reach the 99th to 100th percentile in the areas under his responsibility. He credits his staff with learning to be service-oriented and continuing to develop new skills as he introduces new evidence-based practices. “I develop lots of EBPs, and every year I implement at least three. I make sure the program is working and mature and getting results before implementing the next one,” he said.
“Love what you do,” he counsels nurse leaders. “If people don’t see that love, it’s not going to reflect on what you do. And don’t be stagnant. Move and change. Have a passion for success.”
Volunteerism and Service
Salpy Akaragian, RN-BC, MN
Director, international and nurse credentialing
UCLA Health, Los Angeles
“I was in seventh heaven,” recalls Salpy Akaragian, when her name was called as the winner of the Volunteerism and Service category. “It’s wonderful to be recognized for all the time and effort one has spent volunteering.”
Since her first involvement with a Japanese exchange program for nurses, she has been very involved in other cultures. “I myself lived with multiple cultures in Syria where I was born,” she said. She also lived in Lebanon before immigrating to the U.S.
Akaragian’s work with the Japanese program eventually led her into work in Armenia in 1990 after the country was devastated by an earthquake. She spent much time serving in Armenia as the country rebuilt itself. She then became involved in Armenia’s healthcare reform effort.
“I’ve learned, from all these experiences, that number one, to help people, it has to be about their needs. When other countries are asking nurses for help, to do a [healthcare] project, I learned quickly to make sure to address their needs and not what I think they should focus on or improve.” She said the people one desires to help must own the project. “This creates a true partnership, a back and forth relationship that keeps the project moving, while meeting their needs and helping them get to the
Akaragian’s inspiration for volunteer work overseas has emerged from her own cultural experiences and her desire to see how nurses work in their own country. “I want to know how nurses are perceived and what kind of care they provide, to learn about them and their culture.”
She credits the richness of resources at UCLA’s medical center for providing a vast pool of people and knowledge which she can tap into to help serve the residents and nurses of other countries.
Akaragian’s own aunt, an OR nurse who immigrated from Beirut, was the source of Akaragian’s desire to enter nursing. Once she set her mind toward the profession, persuasion from others to study medicine or pharmacy was futile. “I knew I wanted to be a caregiver, to be at the bedside with the patient and the family.”
Soon, Akaragian will be on a plane to Armenia for her 12th volunteer medical mission where she’ll work in an OR and also speak about her experiences at a conference for nurse administrators.