By Janice Petrella Lynch, MSN, RN
Nurse.com is pleased to announce the six national winners of our 2015 Nursing Excellence GEM Awards. “It is an honor and a privilege for us to name these nurses as this year’s national winners,” said Nurse.com Senior Vice President and CNE Eileen P. Williamson, MSN, RN, who personally called each of the winners. “Our national winners are most deserving of the recognition they have received. Their accomplishments are an inspiration to their colleagues and a credit to the profession of nursing.”
Each year, Nurse.com conducts a nationwide search for the best of the best in nursing, generating hundreds of nominations highlighting stories of excellence in leadership, management, education, volunteerism and clinical practice. Nurse leaders serve as judges in scoring the nominations. In the spring, GEM Award events are held in cities nationwide at which finalists are honored and regional winners are announced. In the summer, six nurses from among the regional winners are named national winners, and they are honored with congratulatory receptions at their workplaces in the fall.
ADVANCING AND LEADING THE PROFESSION
When Kathleen Ruccione accepted the Nurse.com national GEM award in the Advancing and Leading the Profession category, she said she couldn’t quite believe it was true. “For me it’s wonderful beyond measure because [the award] recognizes the profession I love, the essential work we choose to do and the respect we have for each other. What could be better?”
Ruccione said many people deserve her heartfelt thanks but if she could single out one special group it would be her pediatric hematology-oncology nursing colleagues. “It has been my privilege to walk the path of pediatric hematology-oncology with them for 40-some years.”
In that time Ruccione said she has witnessed improvements in treatment, nursing care and survival. Pediatric hematology-oncology nursing was not even a specialty when Ruccione started. She gives much credit to “all the incredible nurses who have had the courage to be present with children and their families as they face down cancer, whatever the outcome.”
By far the most pivotal career decision she made, she said, was accepting the position that brought her to CHLA. Doing that brought her to pediatric hematology-oncology, and that decision was life-changing.
Ruccione said she was privileged to be in the right place at the right time as major milestones were achieved in childhood cancer, including dramatic improvements in survival, largely due to the cooperative clinical trials groups, advances in supportive care, development of survivorship and transition services, formation and maturation of the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses, progress in palliative and end-of-life care, new emphasis on translational research and evidence-based practice, and discoveries in genetics/genomics and precision medicine.
“Looking back, it has been an amazing professional journey. Looking ahead, some daunting challenges remain, especially for those cancer types that are not currently survivable. But my fervent hope is that we’re closer than ever to the day when cancer does not have to be a part of anyone’s childhood,” Ruccione said.
She hopes this award will inspire both nursing students and practicing nurses by showing them that “what we do matters and is recognized by our peers, that there are tremendous and diverse opportunities in nursing, and that we can achieve our dreams.”
CLINICAL NURSING, INPATIENT
“I never expected this, and I don’t know what to say, except thank you very much. I am thrilled and shocked,“ Amminikutty Ninan said, when Williamson called to tell her that she was the national GEM award winner in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category.
Her nominator and colleagues weren’t surprised at all when they heard about Ninan’s award. They describe her as a dedicated, passionate and focused leader who recognizes that hard work is necessary to achieve positive outcomes. Her nominator said she is respected by all as an educator, change agent, innovator, mentor, leader and resource nurse for chemotherapy/biotherapy, CAPD and IV insertion for the entire hospital.
Ninan said she always sought to learn from new experiences and develop transferable skills, and because of her dynamic and supportive work environment, she is recognized for the way she empowers staff with the clinical knowledge and technical skills they need to provide safe and quality patient care.
Ninan has initiated multiple and successful evidence-based and performance improvement projects on her unit. Observing that new nurses were depending on charge nurses to insert IVs, she developed and implemented a successful project to educate them on correct IV insertion techniques. 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%.
Humble about her accomplishments, Ninan said, “This award confirms my choice to strive to be at my best every day, and I am grateful to my colleagues for their support and encouragement. My nurse manager reinforces my faith in my abilities and encourages me to seek new challenges.”
One of Ninan’s most important contributions was her implementation of the RN bedside handoff process. After analyzing the change of shift report process through nursing surveys, Ninan engaged staff to make evidence-based changes by distributing journal articles and through YouTube videos, shift change huddles and bulletin board postings.
The report sheet and process she developed increased 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. Using knowledge gained from her graduate nursing informatics degree, Ninan is developing an electronic report sheet.
Reflecting back on her professional journey, Ninan said, “I feel so glad I chose a career that allowed me to grow, both professionally and emotionally, while improving the lives of other people.”
EDUCATION AND MENTORSHIP
“To say that my nominator was excited when she heard the news is an understatement,” Emily Turnure said about Elizabeth Sheridan, Inspira’s CNO and CNE. Sheridan says Inspira benefits from Turnure’s expertise, “And now, as a national GEM award winner, nurses from across the country will,” she said.
Turnure is honored to be recognized for something that she considers a part of her life’s work.
“Education is what I loved when I was a new nurse and I still love doing it every day. I was very humbled to be nominated and to win the national award is beyond my comprehension,” she said.
Turnure says she believes her most important career decision was returning to school for her master’s degree so she could become part of the nursing leadership team.
Moving out of clinical nursing and patient care was not an easy decision for her, but she loves “being able to lead the profession in this exciting healthcare environment. As a nursing leader and an educator, all of our patients are my patients now.”
Working in a three-hospital regional health network, Turnure has many responsibilities, including nursing professional development, community education, and national accreditation and regulatory compliance.
Turnure is most proud of the nurses’ professional development achievements at Inspira. The number of nurses participating in the clinical ladder has more than doubled recently and the number of nurses with their BSN or higher has increased 350% in four years. “I am so excited to have the ability to encourage others to develop professionally,” she said. “Watching nurses grow in the profession and then having them show me their degree or certification is an honor.”
Turnure’s colleagues admire her not only for her passion for helping nurses pursue their formal education and national specialty certification but also for encouraging them to mentor others to do the same.
Turnure recognizes Sheridan as an example of a transformational and visionary leader who has been a great mentor to Turnure and many others. “I feel my accomplishments, in a way, are a reflection of her leadership and support,” she said.
Turnure recommends finding a mentor, “someone you admire and is in a career path that you find intriguing. Ask that person if they will mentor you along the way, and then give back to others when you have accomplished a goal.”
HOME, COMMUNITY AND AMBULATORY CARE
Marcy Bergeron was nominated by her CNO, Jeanette Ives Erickson, DNP, RN, FAAN, senior vice president for patient care services, who described Bergeron as an exemplary nurse. “Patients, families and the healthcare team consistently benefit from Marcy’s wisdom, caring and creativity,” Ives Erickson said.
Upon hearing that she was the national GEM award winner in the Home, Community and Ambulatory Care category, Bergeron said she “was shocked and humbled to receive this incredible honor.”
She immediately focused on others, crediting Ives Erickson as the one who inspires the thousands of nurses who practice at MGH to strive to provide innovative, evidenced-based nursing care, pursuing excellence every day.
Bergeron said she was especially proud that ambulatory nursing was being recognized and accepted this award “on behalf of all the extraordinary nurses at MGH and beyond who tirelessly deliver quality care in the ambulatory setting.”
Possessing dogged patient advocacy and a strong desire to model a spirit of inquiry and continuously improve systems and processes to support expert patient care, Bergeron was one of four nurses who participated in the creation of the hospital’s primary care nurse leadership council. The group effectively gave primary care nursing a voice in an institution that comprises nearly two dozen traditional practices and several specialty practices, with more than 1.5 million outpatient visits a year.
Bergeron’s exceptional leadership did not go unnoticed, according to Ives Erickson, and Bergeron was the first nurse named to hold the newly created position, which she currently holds.
Bergeron said she believes primary care was the catalyst for major change at MGH. In primary care nursing, nurses are instrumental in promoting health and wellness and providing patient teaching and chronic disease management as well as support through episodic acute illness and coordination of care during transitions, Bergeron said. “Building longitudinal healing relationships with our patients is one of the unique privileges primary care nurses enjoy.”
When asked about her most important career decision, Bergeron said it was her choice to continue her education, first obtaining a master’s degree that culminated in her becoming an adult nurse practitioner. She is now pursuing her doctorate in nursing practice.
“The academic rigor and study of the literature associated with higher education, along with exposure to colleagues in pursuit of similar goals, is inspirational,” she said. “This has resulted in expansion of my knowledge base, development of systems thinking and enhancement of my leadership capabilities in palpable ways.”
PATIENT AND STAFF MANAGEMENT
When Monique Taylor heard she was the national GEM award winner in the Patient and Staff Management category, she was ecstatic, and she expressed her overwhelming joy quite loudly to her nominator, Kenn M. Kirksey, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN, a nursing research director. “To this day, Kenn has a mild case of tinnitus from my screams of joy,” she said.
After fully realizing that she was a national winner, Taylor said she was reminded of the words of Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Kirksey and her colleagues said she clearly lives by those words.
Investing in the future of the profession is a responsibility that Taylor holds in high esteem. “By empowering novice interns and experienced nurses to partner with other members of the healthcare team, I have been empowered and reached new heights in helping patients, their loved ones and those in our community.”
Taylor is responsible for 104 RNs in four medical surgical units at Ben Taub. Her 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 always searching for ways to make a difference in the profession. She is serving as the principal investigator on a quasi-experimental study that will determine the impact of diverse educational strategies on patients’ physiological biomarkers, anxiety and satisfaction. She also is submitting her first manuscript for publication consideration in a peer-reviewed journal.
When reflecting on her own career development, Taylor said receiving her master’s in nursing broadened her perception and understanding of the profession, igniting a spirit of inquiry within her and expanding her knowledge, confidence and skills. A lifelong learner, she holds two master’s degrees and is certified as a clinical nurse specialist in adult health and in advanced oncology.
Pursuing a doctoral degree is certainly a longer-term goal for Taylor, and as for other life and career decisions, she “will continue to lean on God for guidance.”
Wherever her career path takes her, Taylor has one fervent wish. “I hope that the wisdom I impart to others will ultimately play a role in influencing minds, healing bodies and touching hearts, whether it be for patients, families or colleagues.”
VOLUNTEERISM AND SERVICE
After Williamson spoke to Claire Liszkay by phone, Liszkay told her nurse manager, Robin Oakley, MS, RN, she had won the national GEM award in the Volunteerism and Service category. Oakley jumped up, gave her a hug and exclaimed, “I knew it!” Still speechless, Liszkay said at that moment the news started to sink in.
“I kept thinking there are so many wonderful nurses around the world who volunteer their time, day in and day out, without acknowledgement,” she said. “I am beyond privileged to be recognized for my work, which so many others have done as well.”
Committed to working in disaster response, she hopes that by winning this award, she will inspire other nurses to pursue their career aspirations, whatever they may be. “My time in Nicaragua shaped my world view and inspired me to pursue a career in nursing,” she said. “Without my year in Central America I would be a very different person today, and I am indebted to those who shared the experience with me.”
Liszkay is passionate about her work in Haiti and Sierra Leone, and has learned so much about what it means to be a nurse in the global community. Recently she was in Sierra Leone 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 others created a two-bed Ebola unit and provided education while being on call for potential Ebola patient admissions.
In Leone, Nicaragua and Haiti, she has served the homeless and aided victims of massive earthquakes and returned to Haiti four more times. She said “these experiences have stretched me as a person and as a nurse and challenged me in ways I didn’t think possible.”
Liszkay is grateful to Oakley, who “very graciously gave me six weeks off to travel to Sierra Leone with Partners in Health to work on their Ebola Response Team. She helped me fill out the leave of absence forms and continued to advocate for me during the three weeks I was away from work for the mandatory quarantine.”
Liszkay said her most important career decision was made before she even knew she wanted to be a nurse. She had traveled in Nicaragua in 2005 to learn Spanish, expecting to be in the country only for two months. She loved the adventure of living abroad and meeting people from other cultures, so she stayed for more than a year, applying to nursing school from Nicaragua and returning to the U.S. when she found out she was accepted.
Janice Petrella Lynch, MSN, RN, is nurse editor/nurse executive.
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