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Meet our 2015 Mountain West regional winners

By Tom Clegg prides itself on recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence at the GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards events.

This year’s Mountain West GEM Awards dinner took place June 19 at the Wild Horse Pass Resort and Casino in Chandler, Ariz.

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. This year’s Mountain West Rising Star Award winner is Clifford Daigler, BSN, RN, assistant manager, patient care services at Tucson Medical Center.

Here are 2015 regional winners:

Advancing and Leading the Profession

Cheryl Lacasse, MS, RN, OCN, Clinical professor and program coordinator, The University of Arizona College of Nursing, Tucson

Cheryl Lacasse, RN

As someone involved in oncology nursing education for more than 25 years at the national, regional and local levels, Lacasse has stamped a lasting impression on the nursing profession. She has spent the past 19 years teaching at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, and three years ago developed a curriculum for a new RN-MS program in clinical systems leadership. She continues to teach and oversee the program, which has grown from 19 to 330 students.

“I am truly honored, privileged and humbled by being recognized for excellence in Advancing and Leading the Profession,” Lacasse said. “This award acknowledges the breadth of my professional footprint through modeling and promoting excellence in nursing practice, education, scholarship and leadership.”

Lacasse stays current on changes in education and nursing and continually evolves with those changes. She was aware of the trend to make graduate nursing education available to nurses who otherwise might not have access, so she made the RN-MS program 100% online. She is not content with the status quo and continues to be driven to be a contributor to nursing education.

Her aspirations, she said, include carefully observing emerging trends in healthcare and creating opportunities for nurses “to gain the tools needed to lead innovative patient care and interprofessional education initiatives.”

Her desire to put patients first is at the heart of everything she does, whether it is in the clinical setting or the classroom. Lacasse has an uncanny ability to effectively combine her understanding of nursing curricula with her real-world experiences while possessing what one colleague described as “an equal amount of aptitude in compassion and collaboration.”

Lacasse advises nurses “to be grounded in the essence of the human experience.” She suggests they surround themselves with strong mentors, plan their career development “and be open to unexpected opportunities that require bold risk-taking and lead to personal and professional growth.”

She is most proud of her many contributions to enhance the quality of life for patients through direct care, educating new nurses, developing nurse leaders and exploring innovative methods of care delivery and in education.

Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Dean Kotwica, BSN, RN, Team lead, critical care, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Phoenix

Dean Kotwica, RN

Professional golf’s loss is nursing’s gain. “My aspirations of playing on the PGA Tour are pretty much shot, so I hope to continue to be deserving of this award long into my nursing career,” Kotwica said after receiving the award for Clinical Nursing Inpatient.

His sense of humor and a highly regarded sense of professionalism have made Kotwica popular among patients and staff as a team lead for a 30-bed, multispecialty adult ICU. He serves as an RN extracorporeal membrane oxygenation specialist, rapid response nurse and cardiac transport nurse.

An active member of numerous hospital groups, he is seen as a resource to all nurses within the organization. He is able to provide concrete feedback, pointing out areas of concern in an unassuming manner. Kotwica’s creativity has resulted in numerous improvements in the way team leaders function on the unit.

His nominator for the award wrote of Kotwica: “I cannot think of a single clinical condition in which I would not have the utmost confidence entrusting my own family to this nurse’s care.”

Kotwica said such high praise makes him most proud of his work, whether it comes from patients, their family members or co-workers. “

Known for his attention to detail while maintaining sight of the big picture, Kotwica inspires colleagues with his bedside nursing skills, where he provides efficient and empathetic care.

“This award makes me feel truly blessed to have found a career that I can excel at professionally while helping patients and families during an extremely challenging time in their lives,” he said.

His caring nature extends beyond the clinical setting. He regularly joins in unit activities, such as adopting families or participating in community walks or runs that support local charities.

Kotwica credits his career development to his Mayo Clinic colleagues, his family and his friends. He said his parents “have instilled in me a set of values from early on that shaped me into the person I am today.”

Education and Mentorship

Susan Bentley, BS, RN, CMSRN, Clinical educator, Tucson Medical Center

Susan Bentley, RN

Bentley believes in recognizing nurses for their work and achievements, and after being named as the Education and Mentorship GEM Award winner, she said she felt honored. But Bentley also believes nursing is a “team activity” and wanted to share the award “with all who have mentored me in my career to make me the nurse I am today.”

She said she has learned not only from her colleagues, but also the nurses she has precepted over the years. While she has always been a nurse advocate, Bentley is most proud of helping develop and implement the graduate residency program at Tucson Medical Center, which received state and regional recognition. The program has had an attrition rate of less than 10%, well below the national average. She said one of the pieces of advice she gives new graduates “is to give themselves some time to learn how to be a nurse,” then “have fun with your profession and career.”

Bentley also helped develop a program to successfully acclimate nurses with less acute experience into the hospital setting. “Having the right staff in the right positions is one of the keys to excellence in patient care,” she said.

In addition, Bentley provides continuing staff education by arranging lectures given by content experts, such as physicians and nurse practitioners, and she implements labs that offer ongoing skills training and knowledge.

Bentley has been the organization’s champion for glycemic control and organ donation. She works with the diabetes nurse practitioner, clinical diabetic educators and unit managers to coordinate processes and education to improve patient glycemic control throughout the hospital. She also works closely with the Arizona Donor Network to ensure training and polices related to organ donation are appropriate, and facilitates on organ donation education for staff and visitors.

Bentley plans to retire at the end of July and is looking forward to spending time with her grandson. She doesn’t see herself ever straying too far from the profession. “I believe that I will find some type of activity around nursing in my retirement,” she said. •

Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Amanda Hundley, MSN-Ed, RN, Clinical instructor, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Phoenix

Amanda Hundley, RN

This forward-thinking instructor provides creativity, consistency and passion in clinical instruction in the community setting. Her networking skills and collaboration with leaders, agencies and constituents in the community have led to ongoing clinical relationships and an increased number of clinical contracts.

In receiving the award, Hundley credited her faculty chairman for encouraging her “to be creative and set an example for others.”

Hundley guides students at local health fairs and helps them recognize strategies for overcoming barriers in building healthy communities. Many community organizations rely on Chamberlain’s presence and Hundley’s oversight. She maintains the clinical programs so they continue every semester, and community agencies can depend on the instructor and Chamberlain students. The students benefit from exposure to diverse populations and gain experience in using evidence to create educational materials. Students also learn communication and professional speaking skills while working closely with clients while Hundley provides one-on-one support.

Hundley said she is most proud of the connections she has made in the community, the services she and her students have been able to provide to vulnerable populations and the opportunities she has had to serve as a role model to other nurses and student nurses.

“Winning this award is a great honor,” she said. “To me, this [award] means going above and beyond to make the profession better.”

Hundley shows no signs of slowing down. She said she would like to begin a doctoral degree in nursing education. She hopes to expand her “community health connections and services to include providers such as nurse practitioners and partner with large healthcare organizations so nursing services can be extended to those in need in my community.”

Hundley consistently extends herself to the greater area network and in doing so, she provides outstanding opportunities to educate nursing students so they will be knowledgeable and experienced in community health nursing. Nurse graduates have been placed in desirable community positions, thanks to Hundley’s relationships. Hundley is described as a role model for senior nursing students and helps instill in each of Chamberlain’s BSN students the value of what one nurse can do.

Patient and Staff Management

Beth Gross, BSN, RN, Team lead, ambulatory infusion department and PICC team, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Phoenix

Beth Gross, RN

Admired for her ability to handle all situations with dignity and respect, Gross said her grandmother, a nurse who exhibited strength and a caring spirit, had the biggest influence on her career. Gross said when her grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease at an early age, “I felt that caring spirit in me, and I wanted to share that with people.”

Now, with 15 years of nursing behind her, Gross said she is driven to develop her career for the next generation — her daughters.
Gross said she is not driven by the thought of earning accolades, but the best part about winning the GEM Award in the category of Patient and Staff

Management is knowing “that my peers see that I put 100% into my job.” She added winning the award “has revived my spirit and has made me excited to advance my career.”

A well-respected leader who collaborates with other disciplines, leaders, staff and patients, Gross said she is proud of the programs she has helped start at Mayo, such as educating RNs on peripheral IV placement using ultrasound guidance, expanding the PICC team and its responsibilities and developing revised staffing guidelines.

But those accomplishments don’t compare with the moments she gets to spend with patients. “The quiet thank you when you listen to your patient’s stories or hold their hand while they cry — those are my cherished times,” she said.

Likewise, her colleagues appreciate the time they spend with Gross because of her wealth of knowledge and clinical expertise, both of which she is eager to share with them. As one of her peers said, “She is always willing to assist, and I know it is going to be a good day when she is here.”
Gross also gives of her time and talent beyond the hospital setting. She volunteers in the community and engages children in volunteer work as well. She even has opened her home and provided free child care to working parents.

Described as self-motivated, detail-oriented and extremely efficient, Gross is conscientious about professional nursing practice and strives to provide safe patient care. To that end, Gross offers four simple but meaningful pieces of advice to her fellow nurses: “Continue to learn. Embrace your profession. Be proud to be a nurse. Make a difference.”


Volunteerism and Service

Cynthia Carsten, RN, ED manager, Tucson Medical Center

Cynthia Carsten, RN

On the job, Carsten works tirelessly to create and support professional development and recognition programs for nurses, but her GEM award is for efforts outside of of the workplace where she also has made an exceptional difference in the lives of others.

Carsten is actively involved in Tu Nidito’s Camp Erin as a nursing support team member. The nonprofit agency’s programs include grief support for children and young adults who have experienced the death of a loved one, support for children with serious medical conditions and support for children and teenagers who have a parent diagnosed with a serious medical condition. She mentors youths and adults at Tu Nidito, both one-on-one and in large group settings.

Carsten said she was “humbled and honored” to receive the GEM Award for Volunteerism and Service. “I believe that a simple act of kindness can significantly change the lives of those we touch,” she said.

She  also works with the Tucson Fire Fighters Association, National Fallen Firefighters Association, Tucson chapter, and the Be Safe Saturday events hosted by a local facility to provide families with information, resources and support to enhance their overall safety and welfare. It is no wonder her nominator for the award described her as “a beautiful soul who is a gift to our profession.” Her nominator also said Carsten serves as a role model through her professionalism, dedication and tenacity.

Taking pride in her accomplishments at Tucson Medical Center,  Carsten has researched ways to improve the medication reconciliation process to reduce medication errors and she has been integral in reducing length-of-stay and left-without-being-seen rates in the ED as a member of the unit’s Lean Process Improvement Team.

This enthusiastic leader advises her fellow nurses “to always find the joy in what you are doing and work hard to achieve greatness, for perfection doesn’t exist.” Carsten believes these traits can help nurses “develop and achieve amazing things.” She said because nursing is widely seen as the most trusted profession, it is imperative nurses always strive to do their best.

Carsten, who aspires to become a director and eventually a CNO, said she is “motivated and eager to lead and transform healthcare.”


By | 2021-05-27T11:49:12-04:00 July 13th, 2015|Categories: Nursing Awards|0 Comments

About the Author:

Special Topics Editor Deborah Filipek develops and edits content for OnCourse Learning’s blog, which covers news, trends and features relevant to nurses. She has more than 25 years of writing and editing experience, having previously worked for weekly newspapers and ad agencies in the Chicagoland area.

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