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Meet Our 2015 Greater Chicago GEM Award winners

Nurse.com prides itself on recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence at the GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards events.

This year’s Greater Chicago GEM Awards dinner took place May 8 at the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg. Six regional winners were chosen from 30 finalists in the categories of Advancing and Leading the Profession, Clinical Nursing, Inpatient, Education and Mentorship, Home, Community and Ambulatory Care, Patient and Staff Management, and Volunteerism and Service.

A Rising Star Award also is given to a nurse who has worked for less than five years in a healthcare setting but possesses a strong nursing knowledge and good clinical skills.

Here are 2015 regional winners:

Advancing and Leading the Profession

Kim Lucille Armour, PhD, NP-BC, RDMS, NEA-BC, director, women’s health, Prentice Women’s Hospital, Northwestern Medicine, Chicago

0615_eIL_KimArmour_WinnerPICMaking her institution the best birthing center in the nation is one of Armour’s aspirations. With her expertise as a clinician and organizational leader, she may well succeed in this goal as she has in other professional endeavors.

Armour is a nationally recognized nursing leader who capably translates grand-scale excellence into daily unit operations. She is the force behind numerous innovative projects, including an obstetrics/operating room fast-track program, culture of safety initiatives and a patient satisfaction initiative.

In accepting the award, she said, “To be honest, from day to day, I am so busy caring for people and mentoring others, that I often forget to stop and think about all that I have accomplished in my career and lifetime.

“I’ve been so blessed to have opportunities that, with hard work, have provided me with even greater opportunities to share with others. This award is a reminder of all that I’ve accomplished and all that is still there waiting for me to do.”

Armour is passionate about developing and improving the specialty of perinatal health, both inside and outside the facility, and works with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality. She has been an active member of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses for more than 25 years, 10 of which were at the state and national levels. She said her colleagues and friends within AWHONN have been significant influences on her career.

Armour also recognizes the impact on her career from Victor Trinkus, MD, an OB/GYN who she said always had time to share in educating L&D nurses at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Ill. “He always encouraged us to understand the pathophysiology of the maternal and fetal patients to support our highest level of care and outcomes,” she said.

Armour urges nurse leaders and clinicians to mentor and share their passion and skills with others. It’s all about “passing it on with keeping the patient and family at the center of our care,” she said.

“Love what you do,” she said. “If you love what you do, you will never need to go looking for success; it will exude from you and be evident to all of those you serve and work alongside. There will always be difficult days and when you recognize that no one individual knows everything and that we have a team for a reason, you will advance your learning and your career.”

Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Jaime Biagioni, BSN, RN, CCRN, interim clinical practice partner, Advocate Children’s Hospital, Oak Lawn, Ill.

0615_eIL_JaimeBiagioni_WinnerPIC“Excelling to the top of the clinical ladder, nurse clinician IV, at my institution is what I’m most proud of,” Biagioni said of her nursing career accomplishments. “There are very few nurses who achieve this goal.”

To attain this level, Biagioni developed and implemented a project proposal for a new clinical model for the pediatric code blue process. This project established a specific pediatric code blue policy and procedure and a formal code blue team, and created a new pediatric resuscitation record and performance improvement tool.

“My project was very involved, including developing and implementing a pediatric code blue policy along with many other pieces to make the project all-encompassing,” she said. Biagioni believes her work has contributed meaningfully to the profession by offering an example to other nurses on how to advance through developing new processes that improve nursing care.

Thinking of others in the profession, Biagioni recommended nurses recognize the need to take chances to advance and further develop their careers. “When you are involved or go that extra mile, people notice and that seems to always lead to doors opening and new opportunities,” she said.

Biagioni recently became the dyad partner as the interim clinical practice specialist for the PICU, which focuses on key accountabilities such as safety, quality and service. She makes time to serve on committees and councils in her organization, including the shared governance council, the bereavement committee and the bloodstream infection task force.

She earned her CCRN certification in just three years, is certified as a pediatric advanced life support instructor and trained in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. She has been involved in research, was a co-investigator in two studies and subsequently presented posters on them at Advocate research symposiums.

Colleagues and clinical nurse specialists are sources of inspiration and career development influence for her. “These relationships and experiences have helped mold me into a mentor, educator and leader on our unit and throughout our facility,” she said.

“I feel honored and grateful to be acknowledged for this award. I feel that these awards have always been presented to the best of the best, and it’s amazing to be thought of as one of those people.”

Education and Mentorship

Jean Powlesland, MS, RN, NIDCAP trainer, developmental specialist, Children’s Hospital University of Illinois, Chicago

0615_eIL_JeanPowlesland_WinnerPIC“This is an incredible honor, and I am deeply gratified,” Powlesland said after being named a GEM Award winner in the Education and Mentorship category.

Even though she’s a well-known national and international individualized developmental care assessment program specialist, she is quick to give credit to others.

“I am just the face of a large team who is dedicated to mentoring students and professionals,” she said. “This award is really a shared recognition for everyone at UIC.”

Powlesland’s insights and experience on medical support and infant brain development have strengthened her work on the team that established the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program training center at the institution. Her leadership is producing a burgeoning number of NICU professionals versed in the NIDCAP philosophy of developmentally supportive care. In her NIDCAP leadership role, she has served as the decision maker, doer and facilitator, and she believes the facilitator role is undervalued.

“At different times with different projects, I have been in all three roles,” she said. “Ideally they [facilitators] are the ones who help bring out the best in the team, keep the dynamics going in a productive way, help bring differing perspectives to the table, and provide reflective process to the group. I feel that is my strength, and a role that should be emphasized more in healthcare.”

Powlesland credits her own development as a leader in the NIDCAP approach to caring for NICU patients to Heidelise Als, PhD, a developmental psychologist who founded the method. She said Als’ work emphasizes the positive impact of integrating families into the care of their hospitalized infants, and the importance of delivering necessary medical care that is sensitive to each infant’s unique capacities and sensitivities to prevent stress that may adversely affect brain development.

As she approaches retirement in a few years, Powlesland said she couldn’t have imagined earlier in her career that she ultimately would not only be teaching nurses but also occupational and physical therapists, social workers and child-life specialists. She offered the following advice for other nurses: “You often don’t know where a road will take you, but you should know yourself as a person and what appeals to you. Specific opportunities will arise and don’t be afraid to take them.”

Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Lisa Williams, MS, APN-CNS, AACRN,  HIV advanced practice nurse, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago

0615_eIL_LisaWilliams_WinnerPICA recognized patient advocate, Williams takes a holistic approach in her treatment of HIV patients, helping them navigate sensitive issues such as disclosure of their HIV status and quality of life issues, while providing their medical care.

“My patients have had the greatest influence on my career, particularly my HIV patients from the early years of the epidemic,” Williams said.

She said she has always carried a sense of commitment to the cause of HIV care and to those individuals who survived the early years of the AIDS epidemic and made it to the modern era of highly active antiretroviral therapy.

Through her work in the infectious disease clinic, she serves as mentor, role model and leader to other nurses as well as to campus APRNs. Last year, she volunteered to co-chair the infectious disease clinic employee engagement committee, and her efforts helped raise the engagement score to 18% higher than the rest of the institution.

Recently, as part of a quality/research project examining HIV patients’ engagement in their care, she helped develop the policy for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. Her efforts prompted her to spearhead an initiative to diagnose patients with HIV earlier in the course of their disease with more widespread testing. She sees nearly every newly diagnosed patient, counseling them, connecting them to resources and giving them hope they can live with HIV.

Reflecting upon her work, she said, “I have been most proud of my ability to provide sensitive, compassionate care to this patient population, and to have been able to do it over the course of so many years, allowing [me to establish] long-term relationships and a perspective that provides continuity.“

Williams admitted her discomfort with receiving an award for her nursing excellence. She said she has “simply done the next right thing to do, as each opportunity and need presented itself to me.“

Looking ahead, she wants to keep working with patients with HIV and knows she will continue to learn about the disease through her research projects.

“In my leadership role with our APRN committee, I am working to create a group mentoring program which will help mentor both new APNs and PAs, and also RNs in APN programs,” Williams said. “I am really excited about that project.”

Patient and Staff Management

Carrie Renschen, MSN, RNC-NIC, assistant unit director, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

0615_eIL_CarrieRenschenWinnerPICDescribed as an innovative leader, Renschen has made significant contributions to patient care and nursing leadership in the neonatal ICU and the pediatric ICU. In the NICU, she has led quality initiatives such as the NICU CLABSI reduction initiative, NEC reduction and the hospitalwide peer review process. Her efforts have resulted in more than two years free of CLABSIs in the PICU.

Renschen credits her mother as her greatest influence. “My mother is by far the most influential in many aspects of my life, especially in my career,” she said. “She taught me that with hard work and determination, I can overcome my obstacles and achieve my goals. I can only hope to have her strength and perseverance throughout the rest of my career.”

Effective training of new hires on her units, in which Renschen is a key leader, has critically improved nursing engagement scores and skill levels. Newly hired nurses are oriented and trained in specific skills, a plan that has successfully resulted in the advancement of more than half of them to the proficient/expert stage. Even better, the unit staff vacancy rate is now just 3%.

Renschen particularly relishes her mentorship opportunities.

“I am most proud of the mentorship I have provided to nurses who have a desire to be leaders,” she said. “The nurses I have mentored have taken on many different roles such as committee chair and quality project champion which have improved the outcomes and metrics of their units.”

Leadership is definitely in this nurse’s future. She is aiming to earn nurse executive certification her DNP with an emphasis in systems leadership. She envisions herself eventually to be in a unit or department director position. “I want to continue to look for opportunities to mentor those interested in leadership and to make a difference whenever I can, wherever I may be,” she said. “Winning this award gives me motivation to continue to strive for more and to pursue all of my personal and professional goals.”

Speaking from experience, she encourages new graduates to focus on clinical development before pursuing a higher degree. “I also advise nurses who are unsure of their long-term goals to start by seeking out opportunities for professional growth within their unit by joining a committee or participating in a quality-improvement project.“

Volunteerism and Service

Claire Liszkay, BSN, RN, CCRN, staff RN, MICU Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago

0615_eIL_ClaireLiszkay_WinnerPICLiszkay’s response to winning the Nurse.com GEM award in the Volunteerism and Service category was to give credit to the important daily work all nurses do.

“Nurses quietly save lives every day without acknowledgement or awards,” she said. “I am humbled to have been recognized while those nurse heroes continue on.”

A quiet hero is how her co-workers describe Liszkay whose passport bears witness to her frequent travels overseas as a volunteer. Recently she was in Sierra Leone, Africa, for six weeks to care for Ebola victims. The trip was the culmination of Liszkay’s myriad roles in Ebola preparation at her institution where she and other volunteers created a two-bed Ebola unit, developed educational videos, wrote protocols and provided education while constantly being on call for potential Ebola patient admissions.

“I have learned so much about what it means to be a nurse in the global community and hopefully brought these lessons home,” she said of her time in Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she served the homeless and aided victims of massive earthquakes. She returned to Haiti four times.

“I am most proud of my work in Haiti and Sierra Leone,” she said. “These experiences have stretched me as a person and as a nurse and challenged me in ways I didn’t think possible. I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without them.”

Liszkay believes her fellow staff nurses in the MICU have had the most significant influence on her professional life.

“Every day I learn from my colleagues and I am indebted to all of them,” she said. “From my nurse educators to my fellow staff nurses in the MICU to those working in Haiti and Sierra Leone, I continually learn new skills, new patience and new perspectives from these hard-working men and women.”

Liszkay’s volunteer and service activities have inspired others to reach out in service to others as she has done so successfully.

“Seek out what makes you happy and run with it,” she advises fellow nurses. “There are so many different opportunities for nurses, whether at the bedside, in the clinic or elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Who knows what you might discover?”

Rising Star Award

Rita Lanier, RN, CNS, ACLS, clinical nurse leader, University of Chicago Medicine, Chicago

0615_eIL_RitaLanier_WinnerPICAfter receiving the award, Lanier said, “This recognition and my experience have helped me realize that I have made the right choice in a career change. Because at the end of the day, nothing else matters more than life. What joy it is to contribute to the human spirit.”

Having entered nursing as a second career, Lanier has applied her past experience in the private sector to her leadership of staff on her unit. As a preceptor, she spends considerable time with all new orientees and considers their learning experience a personal reflection of her teaching abilities. During her nurse residency program, she led an evidence-based project on implementation of bedside reports that resulted in a poster presentation and a video at a nursing research symposium.

In her CNL role, Lanier bridges the gap between the needs of staff and management. She takes the initiative in problem-solving and was instrumental in reinstituting the managing daily improvements program.

In addition to direct patient care, Lanier performs tracer audits, patient care rounding, service recovery, quality audits and discharge coordination. As chairwoman of the unit-based council, she led the implementation of strategies to reduce pressure ulcers and falls, and as unit representative to the organization’s nursing/pharmacy committee she collaborated with pharmacy to implement new safeguards in the medication delivery system.

After attending the 2013 Magnet conference, Lanier held meetings with staff to develop a shared governance structure on her unit. She also has been a participant in the Surviving Sepsis Campaign/Midwest Chicago Collaborative since 2013, and with her input, a committee developed a nurse-driven sepsis protocol.

Lanier has transitioned successfully from new graduate to preceptor, charge nurse and CNL in fewer than three years. The recipient of the 2014 Excellence in Nursing in an Inpatient Area award, she also has accepted the challenge of a new unit leadership position and is pursuing an advanced nursing degree.

By | 2015-06-25T21:22:16-04:00 June 25th, 2015|Categories: GEM Awards, Greater Chicago|0 Comments

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Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer.

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