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Meet our 2015 DC/Maryland/Virginia GEM Award winners

By Donna Novak, DNP, RN prides itself on recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence at the GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards events.

This year’s DC/Maryland/Virginia GEM Awards dinner was held June 10 in Greenbelt, Md. Six 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 Lifetime Achievement Award also was presented to honor a nurse for a lifetime of achievement in a distinguished and meaningful career within the field of nursing. A Rising Star Award was 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

Christina Cafeo, DNP, RN, director of nursing and patient care services for medical, surgical and cardiac services, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore


Christina Cafeo, RN

Cafeo said winning the GEM Award for Advancing and Leading the Profession is “exciting, inspiring and extremely meaningful to me both personally and professionally.”

A director of nursing and patient care services at University of Maryland Medical Center, Cafeo oversees three service lines, including medicine, surgery and cardiac services. Her many responsibilities include leading Ebola readiness and taking part in developing a bio containment unit, championing team-building and TeamSTEPPS to build positive relationships among staff, and being a lead member of the hospital’s Incident Command Center.

Cafeo is known for bringing diverse staff together “with persistence, kindness and patience,” allowing each member to contribute their particular strengths while uniting them in a common goal, according to one nurse manager.

In her letter of nomination, another nurse manager cited Cafeo’s ability to empower, support and mentor her management team as one of her most worthy accomplishments, and this is the skill Cafeo said makes her most proud. “It is important to recognize talent and to assure opportunities are afforded to those who are ready for them,” she said. She advises her nursing staff to use the hospital’s clinical pathway for professional development, and to “work with a mentor, advocate for yourself and be a team player.”

One of Cafeo’s major contributions is the work she did to develop and implement routine HIV screening of the inpatient population at UMMC. The program has ensured that 20,000 inpatients are being screened annually for HIV, and it serves as a role model for other hospitals and communities. Cafeo is extremely proud of the results of this work and has published its successful outcomes. “As we continue to disseminate our work, programs like ours can assist other healthcare professionals working in areas with a high prevalence of HIV,” she said.

Cafeo said the example her parents set for her has been a major influence on her career development. “My parents have a strong work ethic and treat others with respect and kindness,” she said. “They instilled those principles in me of respecting others, caring, listening, being fair and working hard to make a difference.”

And now by creating exciting career development programs for staff, Cafeo is taking the lead in educating future nurse leaders.

Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Amminikutty Ninan, MSN, RN, CMSRN, advanced clinical nurse, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore


Amminikutty Ninan, RN

Humbled and honored to receive the award in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category, Ninan said it was “a great source of pride for her Bayview nursing team as well as her family.”

Ninan is called a multidimensional nurse, who is respected by all as an educator, mentor, resource nurse, leader, change agent and innovator. “My passion is to create positive outcomes for our patients and our healthcare system, and I have both led and followed others in this passion,” she said.

Ninan also is committed to educating and mentoring both new and experienced nurses on her unit. She initiated a project to teach IV insertion techniques when she noticed newer nurses often depended on charge nurses to insert IVs. When a chart audit found only 19% of the staff documented pain reassessments after administering pain medications, Ninan implemented a one-to-one educational program that raised compliance to 100%.

One of Ninan’s most impactful contributions to nursing was her implementation of the RN bedside handoff process. After analyzing the change of shift report process through nursing surveys, Ninan engaged the staff to make evidence-based changes by distributing professional journal articles and through YouTube videos, staff meeting discussions, shift change huddles and bulletin board postings.

The new report sheet and process she developed increased both patient and staff satisfaction scores, and her success story was published in the Hopkins Nursing Magazine and led to her being named Bayview’s Nurse of the Year in 2014. Using knowledge gained from her graduate nursing informatics degree, Ninan is developing an electronic report sheet.

Described as an outstanding role model and a collaborative problem solver, Ninan encourages staff participation in learning new practices that improves safety and empowers them with knowledge and skill.

Ninan believes specialty certification is important, as is learning from opportunities available in the workplace. She said salary is only one factor to consider when evaluating a prospective nursing position, and that nurses also should look at “management style, cultural environment and various advancement opportunities.”

Ninan urges other nurses to advance their nursing careers, saying they must “come forward willingly by taking leadership roles.”

Education and Mentorship

Katherine Patterson Kelly, PhD, RN, PCNS-BC, CPON, nurse scientist, Children’s National Health System, Washington, D.C.


Katherine Patterson Kelly, RN

Kelly said she felt “very honored” to receive the GEM Award for Education and Mentorship. As a nurse scientist, an important part of her job is mentoring nurses to develop, conduct and disseminate nursing research, and she considers this work “a true privilege.”

Kelly credits her earliest mentor, a senior clinical nurse specialist in pediatric oncology, with having the biggest influence on her career. Kelly said this mentor kindled her appreciation of scholarship as a critical part of advanced nursing practice, and “impressed upon me the importance of being mentored and being a mentor to others.”

One of Kelly’s proudest accomplishments at Children’s National is the work she did to help revamp part of the yearlong graduate nurse residency program. She now provides evidence-based nursing practice training to all new graduate nurses, and helps them develop, implement and evaluate a change in their work environment as a capstone project. “It is amazing to see the great ideas these new graduates develop and implement to improve their care of children and families,” she said.

Kelly’s own research interest has focused on the treatment decision-making of children with cancer and their families. She collaborates with other researchers at Children’s National, studying the factors that influence decision-making and generating knowledge that can help clinicians better understand and support their patients’ and families’ treatment choices. Kelly has authored several articles published in peer-reviewed publications to disseminate her findings.

Kelly’s co-nominator, the director of nursing research at Children’s National, praised Kelly for being “a very committed mentor to fellow nurses,” who “carefully and thoughtfully supports the efforts of nurse mentees and follows them over time to ensure the continued success of their skill development in research and evidence-based practice.”

Kelly strongly advises nurses who are committed to advancing their careers to attend national nursing conferences and develop a network of professional colleagues. She has found these meetings give nurses opportunities to connect with each other and discuss challenges that are faced by nurses in many workplaces, and she is still in touch with colleagues and friends she met early in her career.

“National networking provides an opportunity to discover new approaches to persistent clinical challenges,” Kelly said.

 Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Tara Reed Carlson, MS, RN, manager, business development, R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore


Tara Reed Carlson, RN

When asked what winning the GEM Award for Home, Community and Ambulatory Care meant to her, Reed Carlson focused not on her personal accomplishment, but on the attention the award would bring to the need for prevention in community healthcare. “I was honored and humbled to win the GEM regional award,” she said. “I work with an extremely professional and talented group of people who I greatly respect, so it was meaningful to have my nursing leader nominate me.”

In her position at the Shock Trauma Center at UMMC, Reed Carlson is responsible for providing trauma prevention courses to the community. She co-founded the Center of Injury Prevention and Policy at the facility, which oversees programs and events that serve nearly 23,000 citizens annually in Maryland. The center has three components: trauma prevention programs for adolescents, violence intervention/prevention programs and a trauma survivors network. Under Reed Carlson’s leadership, the center’s staff has grown from two to 11 full-time employees.

Reed Carlson is especially proud of a multidisciplinary intimate partner violence work group she initiated, which provides 24 hour on-call coverage and resources for victims of domestic or intimate partner violence. Reed Carlson used her leadership skills and ingenuity to secure $375,000 in grants to support the program, and has become an expert in developing fundraising strategies. She has presented nationally on injury prevention at the Trauma Center Association of America conference.

Reed Carlson pointed to her father as the person who has had the most significant influence on her career. “From a young age he taught me servant leadership,” she said. “He epitomized the concept by focusing on the needs and well-being of others first rather than his personal gain.”

Reed Carlson also is a strong proponent of networking and mentoring. She offers this advice for other nurses: “The people you meet can help move your career forward. Find a mentor, and as your career moves forward, mentor others. Remember, a candle is not diminished by lighting another.”

Reed Carlson said one of the greatest honors she ever received as a nurse was when a grateful patient named her son Reed, after Carlson’s maiden name. She aspires to share her passion for caring with other nurses, “so they may impact the lives of others and experience the pure joy and satisfaction I have experienced during my nursing career.”

Patient and Staff Management

Kimberly Krakowski, MSN, RN, CAHIMS, director, informatics and innovation, Inova Health System, Falls Church, Va.


Kimberly Krakowski, RN

Krakowski said she has been fortunate in her career to have people around her who understand the importance of recognition. For Krakowski, attending the GEM Award celebration further validated her belief that “recognition is energizing and contagious.” After receiving the GEM award for Patient and Staff Management, Krakowski thanked her nominator, the chief nursing information officer at Inova, saying she would not be there without her.

Krakowki modestly said her contribution to Inova has been to improve the electronic health record, increase efficiencies, and identify and increase revenue. Her nominator pointed out the complexity of her role, which includes strategic development of nursing workflows and continuous process improvement of nursing and clinical information systems. Through Krakowski’s leadership of the team that developed standardized documentation, Inova received more than $18 million for their attestation of meaningful use.

Krakowski believes her major contribution to nursing is the work she’s done to brand nursing informatics, both locally and nationally.

“Over the past few years, I have become a subject matter expert and participated in round tables, provided poster and podium presentations, as well as doing radio shows and webcasts,” she said. “In helping to blaze the trail for nursing informatics, I am helping more than my own nurses, I believe I am helping all nurses who want to move into this emerging nursing specialty.”

Krakowski is co-authoring a book that introduces nurses to the field of nursing informatics that will be published this year.

Education is a high priority for Krakowski, and she encourages her staff to be lifelong learners. Although not required, 100% of her eligible staff have achieved advanced certification. She also precepts graduate students every semester, and her advice to them remains consistent. “Look for opportunities. They will not fall in your lap, and when you see one, run towards it.”

Krakowski shares some words of wisdom with others about career development. “There are many opportunities away from the bedside, but you never stop being a nurse,” she said. “And never, never forget you are a nurse, wherever you may practice.”

She has a long list of goals and aspirations, and said the GEM award will “motivate me to continue to do what I do.” Eventually, she hopes “to have someone that I have mentored win a GEM award.”

Volunteerism and Service

Daniel Ampomah, PhD, RN, NE-BC, faculty instructor, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Arlington, Va.


Daniel Ampomah, RN

Ampomah said winning the GEM Award for Volunteerism and Service made him feel “so good,” and will serve as an “impetus to explore and make inroads into other communities other than my own.”

Ampomah’s community is the Ghanaian population residing in Northern Virginia. After years of sharing his knowledge of hypertension, diabetes and other health topics at African churches in Virginia, Ampomah was approached by Ghana Tourist Coach Radio station representatives and asked to host a health segment called “Your Health is Your Wealth.” His program airs every Sunday, and he has up to 7,000 listeners. Because the show also is streamed online at, Ampomah reaches an audience across the U.S. and even in Africa.

Ampomah also provides health education tailored to the needs of Ghanaians through the Ghana Nursing and Health Center web portal, which he founded in 2010. Last October, he was chosen to be a panelist at a diaspora health conference organized by the Ghana Embassy in Washington, D.C.

He also is the founding and current president of the Ghana Nurses Association of Virginia, an organization started in 2008 which has a membership of 210 RNs, LPNs and student nurses. Ampomah provides leadership, guidance and motivation to the group members, who engage in health outreach programs that bring health awareness and personal care to the Ghanaian community in Virginia.

When asked who influenced his nursing career most, Ampomah credits one of his professors at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He said when he was a new college graduate, she “encouraged and mentored me on every turn to pursue graduate and doctoral studies,” he said. “She is the catalyst that propelled me to reach out and educate the Ghanaian community on healthcare issues.”

Ampomah now mentors future nurses as part of the Chamberlain College of Nursing faculty, advising nurses that career advancement is possible if they “stay focused on the core areas of their calling, and keep engaged in this current healthcare environment.”

Ampomah said he is “most proud of the positive impact my work has had on Chamberlain College of Nursing and to nursing as a whole. My work sets an example for my students and fellow colleagues to follow and aspire to, to do greater things for nursing.”

Lifetime Achivement Award Winner

Patti Rager, MSN, MBA, RN, former president and publisher, Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek


Patti Rager, RN

“Receiving this award is humbling, because I know there are many others equally and more deserving,” said Rager, upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the nursing excellence GEM event in Greenbelt, Md. “Nurses spend entire careers at the bedside, caring for those who are critically ill, serving overseas in the military, or taking care of those in need in home care, hospice and a variety of other settings.”

A leader, mentor and role model, Rager was an integral part of the growth and success of, known as Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek at the time. During her 15 years working for the company, 10 as president and publisher, she carried its message of service to nurses throughout the country.

“Her passion and dedication were fueled by the values she shared with nurses everywhere,” said Eileen P. Williamson, MSN, RN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive for “She considered her work an honor and a privilege, and never waited until May to celebrate Nurses Week. For Patti, every week was Nurses Week.”

Her professional journey has taken Rager from the hospital setting to academia and business, including roles as clinician, administrator, educator, healthcare executive, businesswoman, volunteer and child advocate. Her career path led her to Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania and Virginia, where she held various hospital, faculty and administrative positions at facilities that included Massachusetts General Hospital, Villanova University and the Medical College of Virginia.

Currently volunteering with her husband as a court-appointed special advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in Fairfax County, Va., they were honored with the 2014 May Cook Heart of Gold Award at CASA’s Light of Hope Volunteer Appreciation Celebration in Fairfax, the first couple ever to receive the award.

Rager shared some special words of wisdom with the finalists at the GEM nursing excellence event: “I am sure you’re filled with gratitude, as I am, that you’ve chosen a career with soul, a calling, a profession like no other. We’re all privileged to touch people’s lives through a diversity of specialties and locations, from the very beginning of life to the end and everything in between. I know you will continue to put your heart and soul in the work you do.”

Rising Star Award Winner

Maria Lutz, BSN, RN, CMSRN, charge nurse, Inova Alexandria (Va.) Hospital


Maria Lutz, RN

“Winning the GEM Rising Star Award is truly an honor,” Lutz said. “Receiving this recognition has made me feel proud of what I have accomplished so far, and also provides extra motivation to continue growing as a nursing professional. I am so thankful.”

Her colleagues are grateful for her leadership as the unit’s charge nurse.

Described as quiet but strong in the way she leads, Lutz is frank and articulate in discussing with members of the hospital leadership team some of the challenges and successes staff experiences daily. When she saw there was room to enhance communication between patients, families and the medical and nursing staff, she worked to help improve it and make it more effective. Lutz is a member and an active contributor to the hospital senate, where she helped to develop a script for communicating fall risks and prevention strategies to patients.

Said to be a critical thinker, she is able to identify clinical issues with her patients and get them further testing, evaluation, assessment and the necessary and appropriate care. She is most proud of the feedback she receives from her patients. “When I hear that my care positively impacted a patient’s outcomes and hospital experience, it is so rewarding,” she said.

Lutz has been a superuser for new technologies and worked to help prepare her co-workers for upgrades to the hospital’s electronic charting system. She was a key player in her unit’s goal to incorporate multidisciplinary rounds into the electronic computer system, and is an active participant in physician-led safety rounds.

She recommends to others what she practices herself.

“Get actively involved in your facilities, seek out opportunities to challenge yourselves, and do not be afraid to accept greater professional responsibilities. I also think that education is necessary for advancement, so I would suggest getting certified, pursuing a higher degree or taking classes to expand your knowledge.”

Lutz was the first nurse on her unit to obtain specialty certification through the hospital’s contracted Fail Safe program with the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, and she motivates and encourages her peers to study for their certifications as well.

She is grateful to her parents, who have “always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and have been my biggest supporters,” and credits her colleagues, who have shared their wisdom and experience with her.

Donna Novak, DNP, RN, is a freelance writer.

By | 2021-05-03T14:41:13-04:00 July 13th, 2015|Categories: Nursing Awards|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Roszkowski is a freelance writer.

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