You are here:--Meet the winners of our 2015 Florida GEM Awards

Meet the winners of our 2015 Florida GEM Awards prides itself in recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence through its GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) awards program.

In Florida, a winner from each of the six categories,— Advancing and Leading the Profession; Clinical Nursing, Inpatient; Education and Mentorship; Home, Community and Ambulatory Care; Patient and Staff Management; and Volunteerism and Service, — was selected.

The regional winners move on to compete in the GEM national nurse-of-the year program.

“Our nursing excellence GEM Awards program shines brightly once again as we salute our 2015 regional winners,” said Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive. “Nominated and selected by their colleagues, they truly epitomize nursing at its best. We are honored to present them with our prestigious GEM awards and privileged to recognize them publicly for their many contributions to nursing and healthcare.” is pleased to introduce you to the 2015 GEM regional award winners.


Advancing and Leading the Profession

Mary Hooshmand, PhD, MS, RN
Associate dean for DNP programs, University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, Coral Gables, Fla.


From an early age, Hooshmand recalls wanting to be a nurse. Her mother, also a nurse, was her greatest role model and inspiration. “I feel that she grounded me at an early age and has definitely guided me over the years … as she exemplified caring, compassion and competent care,” she said.

Hooshmand’s roles in research and leadership empower nurses and upcoming leaders in Florida. She has been a champion for interprofessional collaboration by conceptualizing and organizing the first joint ethics session for UM medical and nursing students, now a recurring event.

She is co-investigator of “The Future of Nursing Science: Encouraging Minority Nurses to Pursue a PhD,” through a health disparities summer research program. She also is the lead capstone faculty person and adviser in the DNP program, overseeing development and implementation of all student capstones. “It is inspiring to see this generation of nurse leaders develop and bring transformative change to their respective organizations,” she said.

Hooshmand is most proud of the programs she has developed while at the Florida Department of Health for more than 19,000 children with special healthcare needs and their families, and of the initiation of a telehealth program for Southeast Florida, bringing specialty services to this same population. After moving to her UM position, she continued to volunteer with the DOH, serving these children and their families.

“This is what it is truly all about … meaningful work for meaningful change across our practice settings, striving to make a positive difference in the lives we impact every day,” she said.

She urges nurses to go after their goals, saying it’s never too late to go back to school. “Be sure to find meaning in what you do. And don’t be afraid to fail or to hear ‘no.’ When faced with those scenarios, just be sure to ask why, learn from the experience, regroup and move on.

“These are very exciting times as we see nurses taking on healthcare challenges; moving forward with higher education, research and practice initiatives; and moving into the boardrooms with an active voice, truly leading the profession,” she said.

Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Theresa A. Parsons, BSN, RN, CEN, Assistant nurse manager, ED, Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, New Port Richey, Fla.

Theresa A. Parsons, RN

Recently promoted to a leadership position in the ED, Parsons shows strong promise.  She is able to identify patient needs, often root-cause needs that are unrelated to the reason for the ED visit, according to her nominator. Parsons also is able to recognize when staff nurses are in overwhelming circumstances and inconspicuously steps in to provide hands-on care whenever necessary. In a small ED with a challenging population, she often has to make creative placement decisions.

The ED manager said Parsons has exceeded the expectations of the ED nurse manager through her consistent commitment to quality. Her colleagues and staff admire her leadership abilities and clinical skills.

Parsons served on a team that developed an ED throughput initiative that greatly reduced wait times by promoting a nonurgent area where patients could be quickly seen without taking up the ED beds.

In addition, Parsons participated in bio-terrorism training for ED responders, assisting in developing a plan for a bio-terrorism event. She also created the ED Awesome Board, a visual tool that is updated daily to demonstrate to staff how the ED is doing in terms of accomplishing specific goals.

“I have always believed that when an individual maintains [a positive attitude and treats others with respect] it affects the synergy and relationships in the surrounding environment, which then affects the behavior of those working in that environment.”
Being named a GEM award winner left her humbled and honored. “I am only as good as the team around me, which includes my entire ED team and my nominator,” she said.

Parsons spotlights her nurse manager and her best friend as significant influencers. “My best friend has supported me since the beginning, which included influencing my decision to return to college and obtain my ADN.”

Her nurse manager has always encouraged her to improve herself professionally and inspired her to obtain specialty certification and a BSN.
Parsons plans to continue her education and professional development. “My future goal includes leading my team as their nurse manager,” she said.

Education & Mentorship

Jeanne Colia, MSN, RN, CNOR
Nursing chairwoman, Breckinridge School of Nursing and Health Sciences at ITT Technical Institute, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Jeanne Colia, RN

Colia said she believes there is a great need for nurse educators who have an understanding of how to educate a culturally diverse population of nursing students, and she is in a prime position to lead in this area in her present role as administrator of an associate’s degree program.

“Winning this award is an honor,” she said. “To be nominated by my peers is a humbling experience. The education and mentoring category is a special honor, as I have always loved teaching. Those who work with me are an integral part of a family of educators. We form a team of caring and nurturing faculty members, staff and administrators who all work together in guiding the students.”

Colia extends her educator role by mentoring new and novice faculty members who say she uses creative methods to deliver content. Her nominator observed that faculty members who have worked with Colia adapt her methods of delivery and provide the excellence expected of all instructional personnel.

In her own educational journey, nursing instructors provided some of the strongest inspiration for her through their zeal for the profession and their kind and caring attitudes.

“My affiliation with my peers in my professional organization of the Association of Perioperative Nurses has had the most significant influence on my leadership development,” she said.

In the classroom, Colia is known for embracing technology. She advocates for advancing faculty and student use of learning management systems, simulation resources and opportunities to incorporate a variety of media into teaching and learning. She also participates in professional organizations as a program chair and meets with clinical affiliates to introduce the program and to enhance the visibility of the school.

Fully engaged in her role, Colia said she wants to continue cultivating her teaching and leadership skills and mentoring students and faculty.

Colia gives some advice to other nurses. “It is important to feel emotionally and intellectually connected to your area of nursing practice,” she said. “Give yourself time to develop your skills in that area of practice in order to achieve self-confidence. When you are comfortable working in your chosen area, then move forward to advance your practice through furthering your education.”

Home, Community & Ambulatory Care

Maureen Sullivan, BSN, MS, RN, CEN, CDE
Nurse navigator, HCA Northside Hospital, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Maureen Sullivan, RN

“I believe this award, with its focus on the community/ambulatory aspect of nursing, speaks volumes as to the future of healthcare to focus on preventive health and wellness versus chronic disease management,” Sullivan said.

Being acknowledged is an honor that brings to the forefront the reality that healthcare is changing, according to Sullivan. “My role as a nurse navigator is instrumental in the future of healthcare,” she said.

“Our patients and community are better served as a result of my role as a nurse navigator, and I am a stronger patient advocate because of the role and its responsibilities.”

She has energized the community to see that heart disease and diabetes are problems facing everybody in society, according to her nominator. Sullivan has created programs that address the issues of cardiac illness and diabetes, integrating all modalities to better reach and serve the community.

Known as a supreme networker, Sullivan said her administrative staff have had a significant influence on her career development. “They provided me autonomy and support as this role was brought to their facility,” she said.

Her medical director commended her, stating, “You broke down barriers [for patients to receive care] we didn’t even know existed.”

Sullivan said she is most proud that her role allows her to go outside the hospital structure to network with shelters, free clinics, nursing homes, the county jail and rehab facilities.

“This role also uncovered the need for additional education opportunities, and my facility has supported both local and national lectures and classes to further educate and empower both patients and providers,” she said.

Her radio program, called The Health and Humor Show, has a worldwide audience. Her books and her in-person presentations on diabetes management connect with thousands outside her community. She looks forward to further advancing the world of healthcare education through speaking engagements, writing and her radio show.

“Whatever your interests in nursing may be, be assured that your passion and skills are welcomed. As the well-known Bible verse says, ‘Seek and you shall find.’”

Patient & Staff Management

Zeelena Callender, MSN, RN, CMSRN
Regional nurse manager, Medical/surgical and orthopedic services, Broward Health, Coral Springs, Fla.

Zeelena Callender, RN

Callender’s tenacious effort is the reason her facility is the first in Florida and the second in the nation to receive Joint Commission certification as a minimally invasive colorectal surgery center.

While working in the critical care unit, Callender noticed a high percentage of colorectal surgery patients with longer stays and difficult recoveries. She formed a committee and worked with a team of nurses to develop protocols and a care program for these patients using the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery model, which aims to decrease complications while improving patient care and satisfaction.

With certification complete, Callender is developing a program to assist patients at home after discharge.

“I am very proud of achieving the certification,” she said. “I had to do a lot of research and put in numerous hours to achieve it, but it was so worth it. I know I could not have achieved this without the whole multidisciplinary team. Getting the whole team to make the program successful and watching each one of them contribute their expertise was a great thing to see.”

Callender also said she is proud of the ability to positively change people’s lives.

She points to her mother as her biggest cheerleader and the reason she chose a nursing career. She added that her staff has played a role in her own career development.

Her nominator noted that Callender is a role model to her staff for her commitment to advancing education while pursuing nursing excellence. “I count on my staff to be self-starters in their work and to keep me informed of what they’re doing and the challenges they’re facing,” Callender said. In order for me to better serve the staff, I feel as though continuing education is essential to achieve better outcomes.”

She shares some words of wisdom with other nurses. “Keep seeking knowledge. It is our obligation as nurses to continue to remain on the cutting edge of our practice.”

Her own path looks promising as she eventually would like to work on a doctoral degree. “In the past, nursing has opened so many doors and opportunities for me, which keeps me excited about my professional future,” she said.

Volunteerism & Service

Gisela Dalnoky, RN
Director, CARES Senior Health Clinic, New Port Richey, Fla.

Gisela Dalnoky, RN

After retiring from a charge nurse position on a telemetry unit, Dalnoky began volunteering at the clinic. Two years later, she assumed the director role, leading the free clinic that serves 400 seniors who are low income or uninsured and dealing with chronic illnesses.

She describes her role as running the clinic with the help of 24 volunteer medical staff, ensuring that the patient population, ages 55 to 65, is given the knowledge they need to maintain health and prevent future problems.

“[Our clinic] provides compassionate care, putting forth great effort for patients who would not otherwise have access to healthcare,” she said. Partnering with the former director, Dalnoky has been instrumental in developing donors to increase fundraising after their federal free-clinics grant was lost.

Her nominator explains that many patients have had positive outcomes because Dalnoky has found resources and/or a specialist in the community who agreed to provide the needed care for them.

Dalnoky spends hours researching and making calls on behalf of the patients to make sure they receive medical care that the clinic cannot provide. Her service, said a co-worker, has not only saved time and money, but also countless trips to a local ED for her patients.

Family has influenced Dalnoky in her professional journey. “I was greatly inspired by my mother, who graduated at the top of her nursing class, married and was widowed after bearing six children.

“My youngest daughter, also an RN, encouraged me to pursue nursing after a career in social work. With the loving support of my husband, the studying support of my middle daughter, and the cheerleading of my eldest daughter, I completed nursing school and embarked on my second career instead of retiring.”

Dalnoky said being recognized as a GEM winner is a reflection of the passion she has for her work every day. “It is terrific that someone thinks highly enough of my contribution as a nurse to nominate me for this award.”

To other nurses, she recommends: “Hold onto your passion, continue to learn and keep teaching.” She is following that same advice herself. “I aspire to be open to change, to continue to learn and continue to serve.“


By | 2021-05-27T11:36:28-04:00 August 10th, 2015|Categories: Nursing Awards|1 Comment

About the Author:

Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer.

One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Heidi Heine August 17, 2015 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Gisela, You are proof that dreams and possibilities are endless when you believe in yourself!

Leave A Comment