Nurse.com takes pride in recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence from all specialties and practice settings through its GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards program.
In the South and New GEM States region, 30 finalists, six in each GEM category, were selected, and one Rising Star, a nurse in the early years of practice, was named.
From among the 30 finalists, five regional winners, one from each GEM category, were named and moved on to the national phase of the program.
“Our GEM program continues to give excellence meaning by publicly recognizing some of the best of the best in our profession,” said Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at Nurse.com. “Nominated, selected and celebrated by nurses, our nurse honorees epitomize professional excellence. We are privileged to award and celebrate them for their many contributions to nursing and healthcare.”
Nurse.com is pleased to introduce the 2016 Nurse.com GEM regional award winners and rising star from the South and New GEM States region.
Excellence in Clinical Nursing
Ann Benedict, MSN, RN, CCRN
Clinical Staff Nurse, PCICU
The Medical University of South Carolina
Sharing the vision by writing a Beacon document is the contribution to the profession that Benedict considers her most valuable offering to date. “Writing this document helped me to find a voice to express what we do in our heartfelt and measured efforts to care for critically ill children,” she said. “Leading our team to accomplish a Silver Level Beacon Award was affirmation that our efforts stand out among our peers.”
Benedict works in a 14-bed pediatric cardiac ICU and serves as a charge nurse and preceptor. She said becoming a Magnet champion for the PCICU also provided great insight into the importance of understanding why nursing-led opportunities lead to the greatest outcomes for patients.
Serving as Magnet champion also helped her decide to return to school after 30 years. “Now I am equipped to disseminate findings of my original evidence-based practice projects, such as my study on closed arterial lab sampling devices,” Benedict said.
Her project, including research, study and implementation, is one more confirmation of her passion for evidence-based practice that improves patient outcomes.
Credit for furthering her education goes, in part, to her mentors, Benedict acknowledged. One of her current mentors, the MUSC professional excellence and Magnet program director, “challenged me to pursue my life-long professional goals such as obtaining my CCRN, my BSN and my MSN in nursing education,” she said.
Becoming certified in a specialty is one of the greatest investments nurses can make for their career, Benedict said. “This puts your career on a path to obtain continuing education units in order to maintain your certification, and this keeps your career on track for advancement.” She said active engagement in any type of continuing education expands a nurse’s skill set, opening many doors of opportunity.
“Another essential career decision I made was when I entered the field of pediatric nursing,” Benedict said. “When I see children in their quest to return to laughing and playing, I am inspired by how these heroes deal with adversity.”
Excellence in Community Nursing
Allison Lowderman, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Nurse Practitioner, The Center for Concussion Management
The University of Kansas Hospital
Kansas City, Kan.
“This award recognizes the areas of nursing that are my passion – community, education and advocacy – and brings to light the exceptional work that ambulatory nurse providers do every day,” Lowderman said when she received her GEM Award for Excellence in Community Nursing.
As the first and only NP at the Center for Concussion Management, Lowderman created, developed and implemented the teleconcussion program, which provides services to patients outside the Kansas City metropolitan area. “I am in the process of expanding this program to patients in Missouri,” she said. “This program reduces patient symptom exacerbation, cost and time for the patient who would normally have to travel long distances to the clinic.”
Lowderman champions the work of advancing the practice of nursing. “I advocate for each individual to stay involved in the nursing community, to join a professional organization, to promote nursing positively and to protect the nursing practice,” Lowderman said. She said mentors have provided her with strong support and guidance, prompting her toward career advancement that uses her strengths and helps her develop professionally.
Lowderman said the greatest impact on her professional journey was the decision to return to graduate school. “It was a difficult decision to choose which specific path to achieve my goal of providing patient-centered care as well as education,” she said. “The route I ultimately chose was the family nurse practitioner track that combined both, and it has provided a different avenue for me to advocate for and educate patients in the community.”
Lowderman is a deep believer in always learning, and then sharing one’s new knowledge with peers, patients and the community. She also is proud of the annual bi-state nurse symposium she and her staff produce, which focuses on concussion education and other topics important to nursing practice. Nurses respect her innovation and determination, and physicians who work alongside her lean on Lowderman for support and education. “I work with an amazing and supportive team that makes my practice enjoyable and rewarding,” she said.
Excellence in Education and Mentorship
Kathleen Atwell, MSN, RN-BC
Education Coordinator, Education Department
Texas Health Huguley Hospital-Fort Worth South
The new six-story tower that Atwell enters each day reminds her of a recent, significant professional accomplishment.
Atwell worked with education, clinical informatics and inpatient units’ staff, assessing needs and assisted in creating a six-week-long training period before they moved to a new tower within the facility, which opened in August.
“The cohesiveness of the groups involved in working together to accomplish this despite hiccups, at times, was awesome,” Atwell said.
Her path to her education started when she was a clinical nurse specialist in cardiovascular and critical care.
“Functioning in that role for several years had the most direct impact on my professional journey,” she said. “The opportunities to lead, mentor, practice and educate were endless. To me it was an exhilarating experience and a springboard for advancing my own knowledge and skill base.”
Atwell added serving as adjunct faculty in local universities to provide guidance and direction for other aspiring nurses in graduate school also has helped her grow professionally. “If one searches for them, opportunities in the profession are endless,” she said.
Atwell graciously extends herself to mentor fellow nurses who are interested in progressing on the hospital’s clinical ladder, providing them with specific input and guidance as to how they can achieve levels within the program. She acknowledges mentors have played a significant role in her own nursing development.
“One of my earliest mentors profoundly influenced me in my future direction as a manager, clinical nurse specialist and educator,” she said. During her early years as a young clinical nurse specialist, she said her more experienced peers also served as mentors.
Sustaining the legacy of passing on what she has learned, Atwell recommends nurses seeking direction for their career advancement explore options with educators within their own facility. Find out about tuition assistance, mentoring, career days and other avenues to figure out goals and implement them, she said. “But don’t stop there. With the advent of online learning, the opportunities to advance in careers through continued education have literally abounded.”
Excellence in Executive Leadership
Pamela Dotson, MBA, RN, NEA-BC
Senior Vice President, Patient Care Services/CNO
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Dotson, who said she was “speechless” when she heard she was a GEM winner, considers her role to promote and support staff nurses.
“In healthcare, there are plenty of barriers to practicing nursing the way we know it should be done,” she said. “But tackling barriers and solving problems are what nurses do best.” This underscores what Dotson sees as one of her most notable contributions to nursing: the recognition her staff received last year when achieving Magnet status.
Dotson also takes great pride in witnessing her nurses’ efforts to advance their practice. “Seeing nurses seeking evidence to improve outcomes for their patients is so rewarding to me as a leader,” she said.
To aspiring leaders, she advised, “Focus on what makes you passionate about nursing and don’t lose sight of it. We need strong, committed leaders who are passionate and driven to tackle those barriers so the bedside nurse can provide the best care their patients deserve. If you find yourself getting too discouraged, don’t leave nursing. Find another area where you can renew the passion within yourself.”
Developing as a nurse, she said, involved making a difficult decision to “move out of my comfort zone” from specialized pediatric care to adult home hospice care. Dotson completed her master’s degree during this time and gained valuable experience that shaped her continued progression as a nurse leader. “This change prepared me well for the role I have today, and I know I am a stronger leader for having made that decision,” she said.
Becoming the leader she is today is partially the result of the influence of others, one a former employer. She taught Dotson making mistakes means you are learning. But this mentor also clearly stated not to come to her after having made the same mistake again. “She said if you do that, then you did not learn from it,” Dotson said. “I have remembered that many times as I continue to learn from mistakes and mentor new leaders.”
Excellence in Management
Anna Liza Fernandez, MSN, RN, CSSM
Nurse Manager, Perioperative
West Palm Beach (Fla.) VA Medical Center
The do’s in leadership are easy, but the don’ts are difficult to face. Work on those don’ts and be an inspiration to all. That is one of several tips Fernandez said she has learned and shares with her colleagues as a nurse manager.
Described as an exemplary leader, Fernandez said she received the news of the GEM Award with feelings of surprise, joy and extreme excitement. “Being recognized by the people you are serving is like eating your favorite ice cream; being selected as the winner among a group of honorable nursing leaders is like eating your favorite ice cream complete with all your favorite toppings,” she said.
The hugely successful Lean Six Sigma project Fernandez led, Improving Surgical Excellence through Cultural Transformation, is the pinnacle achievement in her career. Fernandez said this cultural transformation work “aimed to sustain the rather drastic changes the team implemented. I was able to mentor my staff on how to be leaders on their special mini-projects.” She said the program brought out two major changes in the team: cultural transformation and servant leadership.
In her nursing leadership journey, Fernandez has flourished under the influence of what she calls “career whisperers” – the teachers, coaches and confidants who she said have become her mirror. “They let me see my shadow … so I can reflect and be better,” she said. “But what makes me better as a person, as a leader and as a co-worker is the teaching by my mentor in creating my own nurse leader persona.” The mentor said to her, “Look at the people who have led you previously and filter out things you do not professionally agree with. Then inculcate to yourself not to do it to your people.”
Fernandez views education as the pivotal component in her career and has refused to let budget limitations curb her continued learning. “Education gave me the voice to be heard for myself, for my team and for the veterans we serve,” she said. “Through formal and informal education, I have networked, gained new colleagues, met new mentors, and best of all, I’m having fun.”
Colleen McKay, BSN, RN
Registered Nurse, CVCU
Houston (Tex.) Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
Holding a patient’s hand, hugging a spouse or crying with a patient’s daughter are the moments in McKay’s day that give her the most satisfaction and joy. “Working in a critical care environment, families and patients often say thank you for the care they receive. I am sure that they never realize how much it blesses me to care for their loved ones,” she said.
Although she has been a nurse for fewer than two years, she has seized opportunities to practice at the highest level of her training. Her resourcefulness in initiating a Clostridium difficile protocol on a patient who entered the hospital with complaints of diarrhea prevented the spread of that patient’s strain of Clostridium.
McKay said being a nurse is a great honor, adding: “I am so thankful to share that with my patients and their families.” She said the honor of being selected as a Rising Star is a “surreal experience for being rewarded at this level,” especially since she is doing something she loves.
McKay said the greatest impact on her professional development has been getting involved in her unit’s shared governance, where she accepted the role of chairwoman. “As a new nurse, it can be intimidating to speak up in front of nurses and colleagues with years of experience, but what we fail to realize is how much they value our opinions, our fresh eyes and perspective on things,” she said.
She credits her manager, who has never said “no” to requests to try something new, which serves as an impetus for McKay to continue to find ways to grow and develop.
With the learning curve still steep in her critical care growth, McKay said she takes seriously her colleagues’ advice. “I was told I can’t hurry the process of experience and every nurse’s journey is different. This advice is constantly on my mind when I have a trying day or am faced with a new and frightening experience.”
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