Nurse.com is proud to announce the six national winners of the 2013 Nursing Excellence GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards.
“The experience, expertise and passion these nurses have for what they do makes them truly worthy of the honor we bestow on them with these GEM Awards,” said Nurse.com Senior Vice President and CNE Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN. “Each one is a true example of how care and caring can bring the art and science of nursing together in diverse practice areas.”
Each year, Nurse.com conducts a nationwide search for excellence in nursing that generates hundreds of nominations with stories of nurses’ professionalism, leadership, education, clinical skills and service to others.
Nurse leaders serve as judges in evaluating and scoring the nominations, and GEM Award events are held around the country to honor the almost 300 regional finalists and winners who are selected. In early October, six outstanding nurses from among them are selected and named national winners.
“These nurses can truly be called the “best of the best” that nursing has to offer,” Williamson said. “They are inspirational in what they bring to the practice of the profession they love, and what they’ve accomplished in their careers is nothing short of amazing.”
Nurse.com is privileged to introduce them to you.
Advancing and Leading the Profession
Paula R. Graling, RN, DNP, CNOR, CNS
Clinical Nurse Specialist, Perioperative Services
Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, Falls Church, Va.
“I was so surprised when I was selected as a regional winner this past spring, and now I am stunned, overwhelmed and honored,” Graling said when she heard from Williamson that she was chosen as the national winner of the Nurse.com GEM Award in the category of Advancing and Leading the Profession.
During her illustrious career, Graling has been dedicated to increasing the scientific basis for the care patients receive and improving care outcomes through research and collaboration. She demonstrates this in her published research, in safety principles she established and through her partnership with national safety experts to develop plans to study the safety culture.
She believes research and evidence-based practice have been the cornerstones for driving excellence in nursing. The knowledge they provide has allowed nurses to function collaboratively in interprofessional teams, and it also has helped them contribute to the design of systems so they can deliver clinically effective care.
The challenge, according to Graling, is making evidence rating and research inquiry a process relatable to each nurse clinician, regardless of education and position within a healthcare facility. “The ability of our clinical teams to implement sound protocols will drive the progression of professional practice and contribute to achieving optimal patient outcomes,” she said.
Respected and admired as a clinical scholar, her nominator described her as someone who promotes practice excellence, mentors novice researchers and positively influences change.
Graling served as president of the Association of periOperative Nurses in 2006-07 and was recognized by Inova medical staff for her outstanding work when they established the Paula Graling Award in 2010 to be given annually to a surgical nurse at the hospital.
She led the team in building an education center on campus for nurse and physician robotics and simulation training. Also notable is her work as AORN’s representative to the National Guidelines Clearinghouse. Graling headed Clearinghouse’s first-time acceptance of AORN-recommended aseptic practices for inclusion in its national guidelines.
“I am very grateful to receive this nursing excellence award, and I’m so proud to be a nurse,” Graling said.
She said she believes that by recognizing nursing excellence, the contributions of individuals and the difference those contributions make to patients, families and professional colleagues can be acknowledged.
“Hopefully, this will inspire others who want to pursue or continue developing a career in nursing,” she said.
Clinical Nursing, Inpatient
Julie Cronin, RN, MSN, OCN
Clinical Nurse Specialist
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
“If you could see me, my face is beaming and my smile is ear to ear,” said Cronin to Williamson after she found out she was the national Nurse.com GEM Award winner in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category.
“I am humbled and grateful to be receiving this award, and I am also very grateful to our Jeanette Ives Erickson, [RN, DNP, FAAN, senior vice president for patient care services and CNE] and all of our leadership who support the CNS role,” Cronin said. “Clinical nurse specialists play a key role in driving the clinical practice, improving quality outcomes for patients and supporting staff to assist in creating and implementing innovation of their own, and I am truly thankful to be in this profession.”
In her role, Cronin’s responsibilities include staff development, needs assessment and quality improvement initiatives. She is an invaluable resource for clinical issues, such as chemotherapy, end-of-life care and wound management, and serves as the liaison for unit and hospitalwide policies and procedures, according to her nominator.
She created a graduate nurse mentorship program, helped organize monthly ethics rounds and applied for a Schwartz Center grant to bring therapeutic services to the gynecology/oncology service.
Her nominator describes her as someone who is focused, driven and dedicated, and her unit shines brightly because of her measurable contributions. She has spearheaded countless initiatives that benefit patients and have brought recognition to her staff and unit.
Through a two-year, facility-supported grant, Cronin’s unit participated in the Care Innovation and Transformation program. The knowledge gained and positive outcomes achieved through the program are being shared internally and nationally through the grant program. In less than one year, Cronin helped her staff implement more than 20 innovations that have enhanced patient safety and care.
Cronin said she sees bringing innovation to practice as one of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the nursing profession. “Today’s healthcare system is constantly changing, and nursing must be ahead of the curve in terms of discovering new ways to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction, increase efficiency and increase staff satisfaction,” Cronin said. Examining current practice, designing innovative strategies and implementing these initiatives encourage nurses to proactively seek out and engage in the change and to become leaders in healthcare, she added.
Cronin believes the nursing profession should seek out innovation and turn a challenge in today’s healthcare system into an opportunity to make vast improvements and advancements to the delivery of patient care.
Cronin plans to continue her work as a clinical nurse specialist in women’s health and oncology because she said she feels she can make a positive difference in the lives of patients and families in their times of need. She also hopes to pursue her PhD in nursing in the future.
Education and Mentorship
Joan Insalaco Warren, RN-BC, PhD, NEA-BC
Director of Nursing Research
MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, Baltimore
When Warren learned from Williamson that she was the Nurse.com national GEM Award winner in the Education and Mentorship category, she was filled with emotion and could hardly speak.
“It is such an honor to be nominated and recognized by my peers … it means so much to me,” said Warren, who is described as an expert mentor, educator and adviser by her colleagues.
In her work, Warren uses an education methodology that is engaging, logical and goes above and beyond to support adult learners, according to her nominator. Warren believes continuous lifelong learning is essential for nurses to advance their careers and contribute to the profession, emphasizing it should be formal education, whether that is a BSN, a master’s degree or doctoral studies.
She encourages nurses not to accept the status quo, but to be innovative, flexible and willing to adapt, and apply evidence-based practice into nursing care. “Nurses need to conduct research, understand it, speak the language and apply it to practice,” Warren said. “That’s what will make nurses be the best they can be.”
As a research expert she is described as the go-to person for nurses returning to school who are struggling with difficult subjects. In her dual faculty position, she guides staff in writing and submitting research proposals to the institutional review board and actively is engaged in grant writing for nurses.
As a nurse-scientist and administrator who is hospital-based, Warren oversees nursing peer-reviewed and evidence-based practice as well as nursing research committees. She has successfully led two hospitals in this work and has garnered more than $2.6 million in grant funding for advancing the professional nursing workforce.
What sets her apart is her ability to motivate nurses to advance in their profession, whether through formal education, certification or the use of evidence-based practice or research. “This award drives me to want to continue to strive for excellence,” she said. “I want to help nurses in their growth, learning and career advancement, and I want to strengthen and support them as they move forward.”
Warren recognizes that she hasn’t been on this journey alone. “What we’ve accomplished we’ve accomplished as a team,” Warren said. “Our nurses want to excel, and if it weren’t for them, I would not be successful in my role.”
Home, Community and Ambulatory Care
Jill Goldstein, RN, MA, MS
Vice President, Congregate Care
Visiting Nurse Service of New York, New York City
“You’ve made my day, my week, my month, my year and my life!” Goldstein said to Williamson after realizing she was selected the national Nurse.com winner in the category of Home, Community and Ambulatory Care. With “wows” and “I can’t believe it” interspersed throughout her conversation with Williamson, she said she was overwhelmed and filled with pride and joy.
“I work hard because I love my work, and this award has uplifted me and renewed my confidence in what I do,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein has every reason to feel proud of what she has accomplished. With strong leadership talent, Goldstein heads the congregate care program, overseeing on average 2,000 elderly, disabled and mentally ill patients daily. Described by her colleagues as an involved and enthusiastic member of the Greater New York Nassau Suffolk Organization of Nurse Executives, she served more than five years as secretary and president of the organization, during which she created a website and communication system that greatly increased membership and organizational visibility.
Goldstein’s nominator said she is a committed and gifted leader who is admired for her ability to inspire others and make significant contributions to the profession.
In Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, her management and organizational skills were put to the test in New York’s hardest-hit areas, dealing with the disaster during 16-hour days, while continuing to run congregate care. From refilling prescriptions to transporting patients, arranging MD and NP visits for patients needing higher-level care, and getting the chronically ill on home care, Goldstein creatively and tenaciously led a multidisciplinary team in extremely difficult circumstances. She mobilized them to respond quickly and effectively to the devastation, bringing order out of chaos, according to her nominator.
Said to be someone who demonstrates grace under pressure, she inspires new nurses with her words of wisdom.
“Seek out an organization that encourages your professional growth and development and expects you to advance your educational level,” said Goldstein, who never asks of others what she cannot do herself.
“Learn from every situation, every challenge, every patient; build on each lesson and challenge yourself to do more, ask for more and show up for more,” she said. “Share ideas, network with colleagues in other departments and most definitely with your local and national professional organizations. Seek out mentors both in and out of your field and be a mentor to others. Love what you do, be patient with yourself, don’t be afraid of change — embrace it!”
Patient and Staff Management
Betty Venth, RN, MSN, BC
Flight Commander, Family Health
U.S. Air Force, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
“I am quite surprised, to tell you the truth, and I feel honored to be recognized for working in this unique setting and specialty,” Venth said, after Williamson called to tell her she had won the Nurse.com national award in the category of Patient and Staff Management.
Having served in the military for 17 years, Venth oversees more than 70 staff members, including physicians, nurses and technicians, in a bustling family health clinic that has more than 19,000 patients.
Her nominator wrote that the medical operations squadron commander described Venth as the most effective flight commander because she does a magnificent job in handling various situations. Whether the issue is illness or staff turnover, Venth has compassion for individuals as well as consideration for remaining staff.
Her ability to multitask and manage frequent changes is exemplary, and she has completed process improvement studies for the overburdened clinics that resulted in improved team continuity and soaring patient satisfaction, according to her nominator. Venth developed a management tool that tracks providers’ weekly appointments, which ensures appointment standards and that providers’ availability meet patient demand.
Venth is described as someone who loves looking at processes and procedures to find ways to improve efficiencies and patient outcomes, engaging her staff in the decision-making process.
Venth is preparing with her staff for a consolidated unit inspection. They’re working on components that include follow-up on abnormal lab results, training requirements and documentation of competencies.
She displays diverse leadership abilities and promotes interdisciplinary, collegial working relationships throughout the medical group. Among her many duties, she works with physicians to provide training to physician assistants in the clinic.
Venth is committed to ensuring new nurses and nurses new to the organization have a well-coordinated orientation process and has been a key leader in the development and implementation of a transition-to-practice and mentoring program. Venth advises new graduates to build their nursing foundation first and take all new professional experiences as opportunities to learn.
“Each one of those experiences will enable them to build their career,” she said.
And that is exactly what Venth has accomplished. Venth has held six nursing positions during her military career and each of them has helped hone her nursing and management skills and garner numerous team and professional awards. One of those awards was her designation as the best nurse educator in the U.S. Air Force by the Air Force affiliation of the Association for Nursing Professional Development.
Volunteerism and Service
Salpy Akaragian, RN-BC, MN
Director, International and Nurse Credentialing
UCLA Health, Los Angeles
When she heard from Williamson that she was a Nurse.com GEM Award winner, Akaragian was “ecstatic, overwhelmed and thrilled.” As the national winner in the Volunteerism and Service category, it is not surprising she has been a volunteer since she was 14.
“It is so wonderful to be recognized for something I love to do,” said Akaragian, whose service to others has changed the lives of many children and adults nationwide and abroad. Soon after an earthquake struck Armenia in 1988, she founded the Armenian American Nurses Association in California, providing help to victims through the organization. Thanks to her leadership, thousands of Armenian-American school children receive healthcare screenings in southern California.
Her nominator said she has made a career of dedication and hard work and encourages others to pursue service roles.
She established the first baccalaureate nursing school in Armenia, with more than 400 graduates, and a healthcare international exchange program with Japan. To set an example in Armenia about the meaning of volunteerism, Akaragian has helped establish a neonatal resuscitation center, the country’s first ambulatory women’s health clinic and a CPR training center. She also initiated the Magnet Award journey in two Armenian hospitals.
Akaragian is founder and president of the Armenian International Medical Fund, which develops innovative healthcare projects, one being a recognized and successful cochlear implant program.
Right after the regional awards ceremony in August in California, Akaragian traveled to Armenia for her 12th volunteer medical mission during which she worked in the OR and spoke about her experiences at a conference for nursing administrators. She and the volunteer medical team performed eight surgeries on children who could not hear, six of whom received cochlear implants. For the first time, the team successfully performed bone-anchored hearing-aid implant surgery on two children who could not benefit from the cochlear implant.
When talking about how past accomplishments affect future contributions, Akaragian offered some words of advice to others: “Like the trunk of a tree, there must be a solid foundation of accomplishments to support new growth and future results. Each accomplishment creates an opportunity for new investigation, trial and success. As nurses and as human beings, we are inquisitive and strive to reach even greater goals, so we should always accept opportunities for advancement, find people who excel in the profession and emulate them.”