Nurse.com takes pride in recognizing the accomplishments of nurses from coast to coast at annual GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards dinners held in four cities across the U.S.At each event, regional nurse finalists are honored; a Rising Star award is presented to a nurse in the early years of practice; and a regional winner from each of five GEM categories is announced and moves on to compete in the program’s national phase.
“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.”
This year’s West GEM program took place on Aug. 19 at the Ritz Marina in Del Rey, Calif.
Nurse.com is pleased to introduce the 2016 Nurse.com GEM Awards regional winners and rising star from the West region.
Deborah Rice-Lang, MN, FNP-BC
Family NP, Garrison Medical Clinic, Palmdale
Clinical Faculty, Primary Care NP Program
UCLA School of Nursing
Rice-Lang has served as a gubernatorial appointee for a California state commission, an elected public official, and as a director on several hospital boards, but she said receiving the GEM Award for Excellence in Clinical Nursing was “the ultimate recognition I have received during my nursing career. It was a great honor to receive the award in the company of such an accomplished and talented group of nurses.”
As a family nurse practitioner in a medically underserved area, Rice-Lang provides the full spectrum of primary care services. She also mentors students from the UCLA School of Nursing Primary Care NP program.
Among her many achievements, Rice-Lang is most proud of leading a successful collaboration between the Los Angeles County Health Department, the City of Palmdale, and a hospital district to develop three community clinics, bringing healthcare services to an underserved area with a population of more than 300,000 adults and children.
When asked what advice she would give other nurses who are striving to advance in their careers, Rice-Lang said, “Dream big and dare to fail.”
Rice-Lang believes a key decision impacting her nursing career was being elected to the Antelope Valley Healthcare District Board in 1996. She was re-elected in 2000. In 1999, this healthcare district was recognized by the Los Angeles Times as being the second-most profitable in Los Angeles County that year. “Serving in this position exponentially expanded my community networking,” she said.
When she was a graduate student at UCLA, one of her professors, Mary Ann Lewis, inspired her political career, telling her, “If I wanted to deliver excellent clinical nursing to patients, I had to change healthcare policy first,” Rice-Lang said. Lewis taught her the art of negotiation, and the importance of “the meeting before the meeting, which has the biggest impact on the outcome,” Rice-Lang said.
As her GEM Award nominator pointed out, she has become “an exceptional healthcare professional … an expert clinician who provides primary care services for vulnerable populations, collaborates with community organizations to increase access to healthcare, and is an outstanding role model for future APRNs.”
Valerie Hayes, PhD, MN, PMHNP-BC, CARN-AP, APHN-BC
Psychiatric Mental Health NP, Integrated Community Care
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
Hayes calls her work with homeless veterans in Los Angeles, “an unforeseen passion.” She is most proud of the contributions she makes providing care and support to homeless individuals, “who have been rejected by their families and by society.” In her role as a PMHNP, Hayes initiates a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation, identifies compounding medical and social issues, and collaborates with a team of primary care providers, social workers and psychologists.
Hayes said she is honored and surprised to receive the 2016 GEM Award. She sees her mission as a nurse to treat the whole person, and providing mental health support is tantamount when caring for homeless veterans in her community. “I landed in a place that promotes that mission,” she said. Hayes urges other nurses to follow their passion, and when the need arises, “blaze the trail and educate other professionals with your knowledge, talent, compassion and collaborative spirit.”
Hayes’ nominator gave her the highest praise for her calm, gentle and professional manner and the legendary success of her approach in de-escalating the most troubling outbursts.
Reflecting on the career path that led her to earn the 2016 GEM Award for her work in Community Health, Hayes quoted nurse author Angela N. Blount, who wrote, “Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”
Hayes said working as a neurosurgical nurse led to a job in psychiatric nursing, and when she returned to nursing school for a master’s degree in community mental health, that move was a “turning point…as I saw the impact nurses make in the multicultural setting of the community.” Obtaining her psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree was pivotal to working independently in an area of great challenge and need, the community health setting, she said.
Mentors who impacted Hayes’ career include the psychiatrists at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center who offered “intellectual challenges and practical advice” during her PMHNP clinical training. She also credits Norm Farberow, PhD, for teaching and displaying compassion and understanding when dealing with crisis intervention and the acute treatment of suicidal clients.
Carol Stevens, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor, College of Nursing and Health Innovation
Arizona State University
When Stevens heard her name being announced as a GEM winner, she said she felt “very surprised and in a bit of joyous disbelief that lasted the entire evening.” Stevens said the elegance of the GEM Awards gala added to the feeling of, “Wow, this is such a wonderful personal achievement.”
Stevens’ nursing career is filled with personal and professional achievements. In 2014, she was recognized by Arizona State University with the Dream, Discover, Deliver Award for her mentorship, teaching, research and leadership. That same year, she won Sigma Theta Tau’s Excellence in Leadership Award. The contributions Stevens has made through her affiliation with the Arizona Nurses Association also is a special source of professional pride.
When asked what makes her most proud, she pointed to the success of her students, especially “when they present their research and creative projects at local and regional conferences.” She said one of the most rewarding parts of being a nurse educator is “seeing students embrace their role as a nurse with all of the potential in the world to make a difference.”
When reflecting on her nursing journey, Stevens said her most significant career decision was to leave acute care nursing after 25 years and explore other opportunities. It led her down several paths. “I was a consultant, a nurse recruiter, a research assistant, a program manager for a $1.3 million HRSA grant, and a full-time faculty member in an academic setting.” She said each opportunity enabled her to “learn new skills, try new roles, make new connections and develop personally.”
Stevens serves as president of the Arizona Nurses Association. “With my 20-plus year history of passionate dedication and leadership in the association, I believe I have made a difference in getting nurses involved in shaping the profession through advocacy, policy and leadership,” she said.
Stevens advises students and colleagues to do many of the things she has done to have a rewarding career in nursing. “Join professional associations, get involved, go to school and get more education, be open to opportunities, make connections everywhere you go, and have a vision for what you want to accomplish,” Stevens said. What is most important, she added, is to “be kind, be positive and believe that you can make a difference.”
Kimberly Pearson, MHA, MBA, RN, CCHP
Deputy Agency Director, Correctional Health Services
County of Orange, Health Care Agency
Santa Ana, Calif.
Pearson said winning the GEM Award for Executive Leadership was meaningful to her because it was her staff that nominated her. “I deeply respect their efforts and work ethic every day, and it is such an honor to feel as though they have appreciated my contributions as well,” she said.
Pearson oversees a team of more than 350 multidisciplinary healthcare employees in her job as deputy agency director for nine juvenile and adult correctional facilities in Orange County, Calif.
The greatest influence on Pearson’s career was her early decision to experience multiple areas of nursing and healthcare. Her work in urban and rural medical settings, critical care, emergency/trauma and flight nursing, in addition to the criminal justice system, gave her opportunities to experience a wide variety of scenarios and situations “that have made me well-rounded and a quick learner.” She said the diversity of opportunities that nursing offers makes it “an outstanding career choice.”
Pearson’s advice to any nurse who is striving to advance is to “truly immerse in the profession. The opportunities are endless if you stay focused and engaged.”
Pearson also recommends getting involved “at your facility, or the state-wide level in a nursing/healthcare group that speaks to your particular passion.” She advocates for continuing education, whether that means pursuing another degree or specialty certification.
Pearson is most proud of the contribution she has made mentoring her staff “to reach their potential and grow in their profession and knowledge.” Pearson said she leads and creates the drive to achieve by respecting and valuing staff input. “I believe the success of any program is greatly influenced by giving people autonomy, listening to their ideas, and capitalizing on the strengths each person brings to the team.”
Pearson said she was influenced by mentors who shared the same focus, a commitment to excellence and to “doing the right thing for the patient.” This commitment “spills over into every aspect of my career, whether it is a clinical decision, a financial decision, a human resources decision.” Her uncompromising, unwavering dedication to these ideals has driven her entire career and allowed her to achieve so much and grow in so many ways, she said.
Tamre Del Valle, MSN, RN
Director of ED and Cardiac Cath Lab
Valley Presbyterian Hospital
Van Nuys, Calif.
Del Valle’s GEM nominator quoted John Quincy Adams to describe qualities Del Valle embodies: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Del Valle said what affected her nursing career most was that she could develop her leadership attributes as she evolved from ED floor nurse to charge nurse, manager and director. She said this progression gave her the opportunity “to develop and build a leadership style from the grassroots … always remembering what I and my peers wanted in a leader.”
Del Valle said winning the GEM Award made her feel “grateful and blessed to have great mentors and a supportive staff.” One of her most significant contributions was the lead role she had in the ED redesign, which focused on improving how patients moved through the department while staff continued to provide safe, timely care. Del Valle worked with the ED team to map out workflows and identify best practices, and said she is proud that staff “owned the process they created and were empowered.”
According to her nominator, Del Valle’s tireless work on the ED redesign paid off. In the two years since she assumed the ED director role, the number of patients served increased from 130-150 patients per day to approximately 200 patients per day, and patient satisfaction scores increased from below the 70th percentile to the 80th percentile. “Transforming the ED into a great place to seek medical care and to practice one’s vocation could be the result of a lifetime’s worth of hard work; Tamre has accomplished all of this in less than two years, ” her nominator said.
Del Valle credits her mentors for instilling in her the determination to “practice with integrity, making your patients your first priority in every action.” She advises her nurse colleagues to “be an advocate for your patients” and believes the key to advancement in the nursing profession is to “continue to grow professionally through education and be a leader that creates more leaders, not followers.”
Alyse Straub, MSN, RN, PCCN
Clinical Nurse, Progressive Care
Sharp Grossmont Hospital
La Mesa, Calif.
Last May was a banner Nurses Week for Straub. She was voted Nurse of the Year at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, and the next day she learned she was the Rising Star for Nurse.com’s West region. “I was amazed and excited,” she said, and the recognition she received was overwhelming and “a lot of happy tears were shed.”
Straub began her nursing career on the PCU at Sharp and quickly began climbing the clinical ladder. She was “full of energy, passion and the desire to be an asset to our unit and the profession,” said her GEM award nominator, who is her nurse manager. Straub became a member of the Shared Governance Unit Practice Council and serves as its chairwoman.
Straub said one of her best career decisions was to further her education. In 2015, she completed her MSN, joined the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and attained certification in progressive care nursing. She believes knowledge “goes a long way in improving your confidence, critical thinking and professionalism,” and her advice to new nurses is “never stop learning.”
Straub said the most rewarding and challenging part of her job is “caring for people during the scariest days of their lives.” She loves building relationships with her patients and said the best feeling is “when you walk in the room after being gone for an hour, a day or a week and your patient or family says, ‘I’m so glad you’re back.’”
Besides putting her heart and soul into bedside nursing, Straub is dedicated to making a difference when it comes to quality care improvement. She has been involved in several projects that address patient safety, healthy work environments and staff recognition.
Straub credits her parents for being her “biggest cheerleaders.” Their advice to her was to “be thankful for and continue to pray for the wisdom and perseverance needed to get through the long, hard shifts at the hospital.” She believes the same passion for helping people that she had as a little girl has continued to inspire her as a nurse. “All I want to do is help and now I know that means to heal,” she said.
Donna Novak, DNP, RN, CRNP, is a freelance writer and works as a community health nurse practitioner at the Bethlehem Health Bureau in Bethlehem, Pa.
View a video of the Los Angeles event on the Nurse.com GEM page.
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