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Sparkling GEMs is pleased to announce the six national winners of our 2014 Nursing Excellence GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards. “These nurses are most worthy of the honor they have received in being named national winners of this year’s GEM Awards,” said Senior Vice President and CNE Eileen P. Williamson, MSN, RN. “Along with their education, experience and skills, each of them is a strong, committed and passionate professional. They demonstrate clearly how love for nursing can drive excellence in every specialty and area of practice.”

Each year, conducts a nationwide search for the best of the best in nursing generating hundreds of nominations highlighting stories of excellence in leadership and management, education, volunteerism and all areas of clinical practice. Nurse leaders serve as judges in evaluating and scoring the nominations. In the spring, GEM Award events are held in cities around the country at which finalists are honored and winners from among them are selected.

In late summer, six nurses from among all of the regional winners are named national winners in the final phase of the program. They are honored with congratulatory receptions at their workplaces in the fall. “These nurses are true nurses of excellence,” Williamson said. “They are inspirational in what they do for the profession they love, and amazing in what they’ve accomplished in their careers.”

Advancing and Leading the Profession

Bernice L. Coleman, RN

Bernice L. Coleman
Research Scientist II, Nurse Practitioner, Heart Institute
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Los Angeles

“I’m speechless, and that’s definitely not a word most people would use to describe me,” said Coleman when Williamson told her by phone she was a national winner. “I am so honored and this recognition is more than amazing.”

Her nominator and colleagues said Coleman is amazing in all she has accomplished during her illustrious career. She is admired as an outstanding clinician and scientist who embodies the concept of bench to bedside and beyond. Someone who has made numerous national and international contributions, Coleman’s pioneering work in pharmacogenetics for heart patients and in the future of genetically tailored medication prescriptions has influenced both heart transplantation and pharmacogenetics.

Coleman said she never will stop trying to understand and search out answers related to transplantion and genetics, and her patients have always motivated her to continue to learn, further her education and find answers to those difficult questions.

Coleman is quick to acknowledge those who have helped her obtain the award. “This award also goes to all my mentors, my family, the awesome nurses of Cedars-Sinai and to the thousands of patients whom we care for each day. It doesn’t escape me for one moment that my patients and families drive my practice and research.”

Coleman is pleased her clinical, service and research work in transplantation has stayed the course and focused on patient outcomes, and said the award “raises my platform as I will continue to be an outspoken proponent for increasing utilization of advanced practice nurses as they engage in their vital role to expand access to health services. We must continue to prepare for a changing practice environment that incorporates technology, prevention, genetics and genomics to promote health.”

Coleman shares her thoughts with nurses launching their careers: “Realize that the greatest contributions will spring from an adventuresome attitude,” she said. “Resist getting comfortable and routinized and unconscious during your day-to-day practice when your natural state is to be unique and questioning and intentionally progressive. The most successful nurses will always be ever mindful of the need to uphold the caring aspect in nursing. Our most powerful intervention will continue to be our respect for the dignity of the human spirit.”

Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Linda W. Ritter, RN

Linda W. Ritter
Clinical Nurse IV, Pediatric Oncology-Stem Cell Transplant Unit
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
Palo Alto, Calif.

Amid tears and the exclamatory words, “Oh my gosh, I have to sit down. I am shocked,” Ritter expressed gratitude and humility after hearing from Williamson she was a national GEM winner.

She turned attention to her colleagues and said, “A turtle cannot sit on top of a fence without having someone help it get there. The love and desire of the 1N Palliative Care Initiative committee members, both past and present, to provide excellence in palliative care, including end-of-life care, has inspired me. And of course, it is the incredible patients and their families who walk this journey and allow us to care for them and their children that are the foundational inspiration for us all.”

Ritter is grateful for the attention the award brings to the field of palliative care. She said her goals of having healthcare providers “on the same page” when the words palliative care are mentioned and of having all nurses on the unit skilled in providing that care, remain steadfast.

Admired for her combination of being a visionary and an innovative doer, Ritter is described as someone who inspires, collaborates and overcomes obstacles. Now, Ritter is hopeful her dream of having a dedicated inpatient teen and young adult room will come true. “[It will be] a place where the young adults will feel less like patients and more like the young adults that they are. [It will be] a place where they can feel less isolated and where they can see that they are not the only ones walking this road.”

She provides some practical words of advice: “Whatever your educational level, whatever your specialty, wherever your practice, search that practice for what is needed to provide excellent care and ensure that you and those you work with can overcome any barriers to providing that care.”

Certainly, Ritter follows her own advice. Because of the positive and successful interventions initiated on her unit, other units have implemented or are interested in implementing the practice changes as well. Ritter helped raise the bar for providing excellence in pediatric patient care, and as a direct result of her efforts, improved the delivery of palliative care throughout the hospital.


Lynn Watson, RN

Lynn Watson
Director of Professional Nursing Practice and Development
Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center
Joliet, Ill.

When Williamson called Watson, she expressed amazement, surprise and happiness, almost all at once. “At the regional level, all of the finalists were so impressive, so talented,” she said. “With such strong competition, I did not expect to receive this national award. I really love what I do, so it’s hard to accept recognition for something I love so much.”

Watson expressed appreciation for leaders who have mentored her during her career and pride in that she has had a similar influence on others.

“I love seeing light bulbs, helping people find those ‘Aha!’ moments,” Watson said. “And I love helping other nurses develop themselves professionally.”

That work has developed into such initiatives as the Transition into Practice program for new nurses, and the development of the nurse educators she supervises who provide clinical education and professional development to the nearly 850 nurses at the facility. Watson also has focused on improving patient outcomes with the Let’s Get Moving staff education campaign encouraging greater emphasis on patient mobility and reducing accidental injuries from falls.

Watson said the national award has helped her reflect on and appreciate her professional journey. “Accomplishments are not always created from one big act, but rather from those repeated day-to-day interactions where there is an opportunity to impact someone in a positive way, whether it’s a patient, family member, nurse or colleague,” she said. “I’ve found that it’s those moments that invigorate and empower me.”     

As far as words of wisdom to those joining the profession, she said, “Be curious and ask questions. It will not only facilitate your learning, but breeds new perspective, fosters dialogue and makes you open to innovation and possibility.”  


Debbie A. Mitchell-Dozier, RN

Debbie A. Mitchell-Dozier
Staff Nurse, Kidney and Blood Pressure Clinic
Tufts Medical Center

Mitchell-Dozier was attending a conference in Virginia along with the pastor she had donated her kidney to in 2013 when she heard from Williamson by phone. She couldn’t stop herself from screaming with delight when she realized she was a national winner.

“To be a nurse is my privilege and honor, and receiving the national GEM Award is an experience that I will cherish for life,” she said. “Nursing is my passion; this award confirms my choice to strive to be at my best every day.”

As a nephrology nurse for 22 years, Mitchell-Dozier said she is most proud of her decision to become a living kidney donor. She became a donor to help a stranger in need and she wanted nothing in return, but hoped her story would raise awareness in the community and inspire and empower others who are thinking about being kidney donors. She also hoped it would provide support and encouragement to patients on dialysis who are hesitant about soliciting help in finding a kidney donor.

When asked how this national award will affect her future contributions, Mitchell-Dozier didn’t hesitate in saying she feels she is at the pinnacle of her career and “from this position I am in a strategic place to impact nursing by continuing to follow my heart’s passion. It is not a time for me to draw back but rather, it is a time for me to forge ahead on a grander scale.”

Her colleagues feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated and passionate individual who treats chronically ill patients at the clinic like members of her own family, according to her nominator, who said Mitchell-Dozier always listens, hears what their needs are and works incredibly hard to meet them.

She gives some sound advice to nurses entering the profession: “Advance your careers first by striving for excellence on a daily basis,” she said. “Dare to stand out and be different and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Use opportunities to effect change in those areas of healthcare you feel passionate about and know need public awareness.”


Denise Fochesto, RN

Denise Fochesto
Manager, ICU, MICU, hyperbaric and nursing
Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center

“Nothing gives me more pleasure than helping my staff develop and achieve, and so to be recognized for that is absolutely amazing,” Fochesto said, when Wiliamson spoke with her by phone. “I am humbled to be in the company of deserving colleagues nationwide who have accomplished so much.”

During the nursing excellence GEM program, Fochesto was the manager, ICU, MICU, hyperbaric and nursing, at Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center. She now is the director of nursing and operations at Newton (N.J.) Medical Center, another Atlantic Health System facility.

Fochesto was surprised and honored to be nominated for this award by a peer, and said, “Throughout our busy days as nurses we often do not or think we cannot take the time to stop for a moment and consider how we are perceived by or affect those we work with,” she said. “In the future I will pause to consider this, and I will continue to lead others by example, with patient care and professional excellence as my goals.”

It has been said the most effective leaders are those who empower their staff, and Fochesto is one of those managers. In turn, she credits her staff as the reason she is so successful. “Not only do they provide exceptional patient care, but they are invested in their own professional development,” she said. “Watching them grow is inspiring in itself.”

What Fochesto has accomplished during her professional career is inspiring to those who work with her. Under her leadership, Morristown’s hyperbaric medicine service received accreditation with distinction from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. Some of her achievements include managing patient-endowed staff education funds for critical-care nursing staff to promote continuing education and certification. At the time of Fochesto’s nomination, 69 ICU RNs were certified in critical care — with nine nurses holding dual certification — and 100% of the ICU nursing leadership team had completed MSN degrees and professional certification.

Fochesto shares some words of wisdom with those who are new to the profession: “The healthcare landscape is challenging today,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of it. It is providing us all with so much nursing opportunity. Be the best that you can be. Experience all you can, find your interests and passion and embrace change. Further your education and challenge yourself to practice at the highest level. The potential of our profession is in your hands.”


Marian Nowak, RN

Marian Nowak
Assistant Professor of Community Health Nursing
Rutgers University School of Nursing
Camden, New Jersey

“I really am so surprised and honored to be recognized for doing what I am meant to do,” Nowak said when Williamson called to tell her she was a national winner. “For me, community service is a vocation and a calling and a wonderful way to spend my time.”

She reflected on how the award highlights the significance of volunteerism in nursing.
“Community service is at the core of our profession, and this award is a great way to recognize nurses who serve others,” she said. “Those who participate in volunteer efforts often quietly give to others, knowing they have contributed in a positive way.”

Humble about her years of community service, Nowak said she hopes her students will continue to incorporate volunteer service in their nursing practice. “It is especially important since many organizations need volunteers to provide critical services,” she said. “Our country was built on the spirit of helping our neighbors, and we are repeating that tradition when we volunteer.”

Her passion for community health and volunteerism is infectious. Her students consistently engage in community service for 70 to 90 clinical days in addition to their normal curriculum expectations.

Besides her assistant professor role, she is a disaster response nurse and a faith community nurse. Nowak said one of her most rewarding accomplishments was the development of a new method to help nurses remember proper field triage techniques during disaster and mass causality events. Another highlight was developing a teen pregnancy program in a rural community that helped reduce teen pregnancies dramatically. An expert in school health services, Nowak developed the first schoolwide drug education program.

After winning the national award, she shared some words of wisdom with new nurses: “Do the best you can, think about what is in the best interest of your patients or community and serve whenever you can,” she said. “If you keep this in mind, your nursing journey will be great. My hope is that you will love our nursing profession as much as I do; and that you will find the emotional paycheck gained by volunteering is priceless.”

For more on the GEM Awards program, visit

By | 2020-04-15T09:24:12-04:00 September 22nd, 2014|Categories: National|0 Comments

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