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Meet the winners of our 2015 Texas GEM Awards

By Donna Novak, RN prides itself in recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence through its GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) awards program.

In Texas, 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 from Texas.

Advancing and Leading the Profession

Donna Richardson DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Vice president and associate CNO Executive Nursing Leadership, Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas

Donna Richardson, RN

For Richardson, winning the GEM award represents not just personal recognition, but also is “an amazing tribute to the nursing profession.”

Richardson believes one of her most important responsibilities as a leader is to “represent the voice of nursing.” She says her personal mandate at Parkland is to move the organization “from a culture of focusing on regulatory mandates to promoting excellence in nursing.”

Richardson promotes nursing excellence at Parkland with several strategies.

She implemented the DAISY award monthly recognition program to boost staff morale, and increased staff nominations and recognition as DFW

Great 100 Nurses. She restructured policy and procedures committees to increase staff nurse representation and created the role of director of

Professional Practice and Nursing Research. She also ensured staff had sponsored attendance at research conferences and fellowships, and onsite access to institutional research and evidence-based practice library resources.
When Richardson recognized that a communication plan for nursing was lacking, she helped create a nursing distribution list, nursing newsletter and website.

When asked about the most significant influence on her career, Richardson acknowledged her mother. “As a single parent, she did her best and instilled in her daughters the importance of following your dreams,” she said.

Richardson also expressed gratitude to two CNOs who recognized her leadership potential and “encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone, taking on new leadership roles and expanding my knowledge and skill set.”

Richardson said she also receives inspiration from her nursing staff. “I am inspired when nurses attend research conferences, publish manuscripts, mentor others and participate in interdisciplinary committees and boards. To me this is our way of autographing our work with excellence,” she said.

Richardson’s nominator characterizes her as “dynamic, result-oriented, honorable, courageous and a true servant leader … whose ability to inspire, motivate and challenge others to grow is awe-inspiring.”

Clinical, Nursing Inpatient

Michelle Kitchen, BSN, RN, CCRN, CMCCharge nurse, CICU, Texas Health Huguley Hospital, Fort Worth

Michelle Kitchen, RN

“I can teach nurses about ventilators, advanced hemodynamics, titration of drips but the care factor in nursing comes from within. We have to care about doing what’s best at all times,” said GEM regional award winner Kitchen. She undoubtedly follows her own advice to those she precepts on the cardiac ICU at Texas Health Huguley Hospital, Fort Worth.

Kitchen, a charge nurse who cares for critically ill cardiac and coronary artery bypass surgical patients, has achieved national certification in Critical Care and Cardiac Medicine nursing, is certified to care for patients on intra-aortic balloon pumps and continuous renal replacement therapy. She is the team leader on the Rapid Response Team.

She is known for her energy and passion for providing evidence-based care, and has worked on various interdisciplinary teams composed of physicians, administration and peers to develop and implement protocols for post cardiac arrest hypothermia, post heart catheterization sheath removal, pre- and post-open heart surgery patient education, and reducing ventilator-associated events and sepsis. She also has worked with the education department to lead staff seminars on these topics, and has presented nationally at the Radiologist Nurses Convention on acute respiratory distress syndrome.

A fellow Texas Health cardiovascular nurse clinician was a major influence in Kitchen’s career. “Her calm demeanor during critical situations framed my mindset,” said Kitchen. The same nurse inspired Kitchen to become more highly educated in the field of cardiac care. “That is why early in my career, keeping up on the latest evidence and gaining applicable certifications to my field was important,” she said.

One of Kitchen’s future career goals is to work at large training facilities to gain knowledge from leaders in critical care medicine. She spent a year as a fellow in the Texas Christian University Evidence-Based Practice Program. She used the expertise she gained on care of septic patients to develop poster presentations for fellowship program’s and the hospitals’ evidence-based practice fairs.

Kitchen is described as the go-to person for both new and seasoned staff nurses. She said one of her key messages to her colleagues is, “Own your career path. Don’t wait for someone to educate you; go out and seek the knowledge.”

Education & Mentorship

Mildred “Millie” A. Toth, MS, RN, AOCN, Senior nursing instructor, radiation/oncology, Cancer Prevention, Psychiatry and Integrative Medicine Centers, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

Mildred “Millie” A. Toth, RN

Toth said winning the GEM award for Education & Mentorship made her feel humbled since there are “many educators who are equally deserving of this award.” She shared the GEM award with her peers, “who help to keep me inspired and focused as we support current oncology practice and mold future oncology nurses.”

Toth has received several other prestigious awards that recognize her extraordinary contributions to the education of oncology nurses, including the American Cancer Society’s Oncology Nurse of the Year Award and the Texas Nurse Association District 9 Twenty Outstanding Nurses Award.

A nurse for 47 years, she has served as senior nursing instructor for MD Anderson for 14 years. Toth said it is a privilege and honor to “inspire and embed a passion for oncology nursing” through nursing education and orientation of graduate and experienced nurses. When Toth works directly with nurses to develop critical thinking, she often tells them that she is “picking your brain and polishing your synapses.” She said her guiding principle, and one she consistently relays to her mentees, is “the patient must always come first.”

Toth’s commitment to professional nursing development has impacted many nurses beyond the doors of MD Anderson. She serves on the steering committee for the Great Houston Area Nursing Oncology Education Program, and is a member of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer, and the American Association of Cancer Education. She has served as president and committee chairwoman for the Houston Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society. For the past 16 months, Toth has been working with a National Cancer Institute Nurse Executive Cancer Center Collaborative to develop a two-day instructor-led program, “Essentials of Chemotherapy for the Oncology Nurse.” The initiative has required a great deal of teamwork, and Toth is collaborating with colleagues from more than16 major cancer centers.

She says that although the demands of nursing “require a lot of time and effort … the rewards inspire and keep me focused.”

Home, Community & Ambulatory Care

Natasha Jones, BSN, RN, Nursing supervisor, Aston Infusion Clinic, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

Natasha Jones, RN

Jones said winning the regional GEM Award rendered her speechless as she feels she’s “just doing what any nurse would do” for her patients. But Jones’ ability as nursing supervisor to lead by example and build a highly functioning nursing team has ranked her outpatient infusion unit’s patient satisfaction scores among the highest at UT Southwestern.

Her nominator remarked that this teamwork is evident as soon as you walk into the unit, where “every patient is the team’s patient,” and call lights and infusion pump alarms are answered without delay.

The work she has done to develop an environment of teamwork is what makes her most proud. “Patients receive a care experience unlike any other, where any RN can walk into their room and know exactly where they are in their plan of care,” she said. In this environment, her staff can provide patients with “exceptional healthcare that contributes to a better quality of life,” she said. Staff satisfaction is also high, as evidenced by the lack of nursing turnover since the unit was opened nearly three years ago.

Jones singled out her first preceptor as having the most significant influence on her career. Although she felt intimidated by the pressure to move quickly as a graduate nurse in the ED, she said her preceptor was “amazingly calm.”

When she asked how he could move seamlessly from room to room without being stressed, he gave her advice that has stayed with her: “Nursing is about having the confidence to know that you are strong enough to care for those who need us, and to trust in the knowledge you will acquire with experience. By building strength and confidence through experience, nursing will become easier and eventually it will be second nature to you.”

She advises her colleagues to “never forget the love that inspired you to do this job because that is what will support you and give you strength as you climb toward your success.” Jones is working on her graduate nursing degree, with the goal of becoming a CNO or completing a doctoral degree.

Patient & Staff Management

Monique Taylor, MS, MBA, APRN, CNS-BC, Clinical resource nurse, medical/surgical nursing, Ben Taub General Hospital,  Harris Health System, Houston

Monique Taylor, RN

The most rewarding part of her work as clinical nurse liaison for medical/surgical nursing is her role as nurse mentor, Taylor said. “Witnessing the luster in the eyes of colleagues who accomplish what they originally thought to be unachievable is fulfilling,” she said. Taylor felt both “excited and humbled” to win the regional GEM Award for Patient and Staff Management.

Taylor’s nominator said, “No matter what hat she may be wearing on a given day — educator, researcher, coach, advocate for patients and colleagues — her peers consistently note her contributions catapult professional practice to new heights.”

Taylor is responsible for 104 RNs in four medical surgical units at Ben Taub. Her nominator praised her for “unrivaled clinical knowledge, dynamic interpersonal skills and an attitude rebuking any notion that a task may be too difficult.” Ben Taub Hospital is recognized as a safety-net facility, and Taylor “has truly raised the standard of care and made healthcare knowledge accessible for both patients and providers,” her nominator said.

Taylor said her father influenced her career and instilled in her “the importance of education, integrity and respect.”

She is dedicated to her staff’s development, and is particularly proud of increasing the number of certified med/surg nurses under her leadership.

As a lifelong learner, she holds two master’s degrees and is certified as a clinical nurse specialist in adult health and in advanced oncology. She said her future aspiration is to pursue doctoral studies, with a short-term goal of becoming a certified quality auditor.

Taylor said she enjoys functioning in the roles of clinical expert, coach and cheerleader. She inspires nurses to explore opportunities for growth and development, advising them not to let “unchartered territories … deter you from being a forward-thinker, risk-taker and someone who is not afraid to make mistakes.” Rather than letting concerns about failing hinder one’s actions, Taylor said “embrace the immeasurable possibilities to change lives for the better.”

Volunteerism & Service

Cheryl Gainer, MSN, RN, CNM, Clinical instructor , Chairwoman, faculty issues, University of Texas at Arlington, College of Nursing and Health Innovation

Cheryl Gainer, RN

Gainer found her passion in the volunteer work she does with children who have celiac disease, and said what means most to her about winning the GEM Award is the fact that “more nurses will read or hear about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.”

Gainer is the director of nursing and a camp nurse for The Gluten Free Escape, an annual summer resident camp for children, ages 7-15 years. A camp nurse for 12 years, she plans to continue this work for “as long as I am mentally and physically able.” Gainer recruits and trains camp nurses, who care for approximately 130 campers and staff, manage camper medications, and provide emergency and first-aid treatment.

Gainer also volunteers at celiac support groups and raises awareness of the disease through journal articles and speaking engagements.

After she retires in a few years, Gainer looks forward to having more time to write and publish, and “to continue sharing my knowledge, expertise and experience with others in additional venues.”

Gainer has been an invited speaker on celiac disease for national meetings of the American College of Nurse-Midwives and the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, Gainer teaches Nursing of the Childbearing Family, and takes two to four clinical groups into the hospital per semester, preferring county or regional hospitals with largely vulnerable populations.

Gainer “requires excellence and compassion of each of the students she supervises,” her nominator said. She also serves as chair of the faculty issues committee for the College of Nursing and has served as chair of the mental health course curriculum task force and numerous other task forces.

Gainer said that although she herself has celiac disease, she is proud to have been “an active and full-time employee who is able to contribute to the amazing scholarly work that comes from the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation.”

Donna Novak, RN, is a freelance writer



[accordions]Meet the Texas Rising Star
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Meet the Texas Rising Star

By Janice Petrella Lynch, MSN, RN


Mercy Mumba, RN

Mercy Mumba, BSN, CMSRN, graduate research assistant, Center for Research and Scholarship, University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovations, med/surg nurse at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, Bedford, was named the Texas Rising Star for 2015. presents a Rising Star Award in each region to an RN who has been working in nursing for five years or less. He or she demonstrates strong nursing knowledge and clinical leadership skills and exceeds role expectations in patient care and professional endeavors.

Humbled and honored to be recognized as a Rising Star, Mumba said she likes to challenge herself and is always looking for new projects. “I constantly look for ways to improve myself and contribute to the profession. I get personal satisfaction when I set out to do something and achieve it, she said.”

Her actions speak louder than her words. At Harris Methodist, Mumba has served as the unit representative on the hospitalwide Infection Prevention Taskforce, and in the two years she served in this position, no CLABSIs were reported on that unit. As a founding member and the chairwoman of the EBP/Research Council, Mumba has conducted studies related to improving patient satisfaction, and her research has been incorporated into the hospital’s Pathway to Excellence application.

As a PhD student, Mumba has focused her research on chemically impaired nurses and presented her research results at organizational conferences.

Mumba said that over the course of her career she has been mentored by many people so when she mentors undergraduate students or new nurses, “it’s a feeling I can’t describe. When I see the light bulb come on for them, especially with research, my heart is overjoyed because I always remember what it felt like to think ‘I don’t know anything.’”

She has helped her mentees successfully defend their theses and win notable awards such as the dean’s awards, and because of her academic excellence and professional representation of the UTACONHI, Mumba was chosen as a university scholar for three consecutive years, an award given only to the top 1% of students.
Mumba shares some words of wisdom. “Challenge yourself to achieve higher. There’s only one version of you so don’t waste time trying to be someone else, instead work on the perfect version of you. You will be happier that way and many more things will fall into place. Lastly, get a mentor!”

Mumba hopes to become a nurse scientist and an educator. “Eventually I would like to work for global organizations such as the United Nations and see how my efforts and research can impact lives of people in underdeveloped nations,” she said.

Janice Petrella Lynch, MSN, RN, is nurse editor.[/accordion]


By | 2021-05-03T14:31:06-04:00 August 10th, 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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