The 2016 GEM Northeast regional winners are announced




Nurse.com takes pride in recognizing the accomplishments of nurses from coast to coast at annual GEM 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 Northeast GEM program took place Sept. 9 at the Marriott at Glenpointe in Teaneck, N.J.

Nurse.com is pleased to introduce the 2016 Nurse.com GEM Award regional winners and rising star from the Northeast region.

Excellence in Clinical Nursing

Jennifer Dorman, RN
Jennifer Dorman, RN

Jennifer Dorman, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CCRN
Clinical Nurse Specialist, Rapid Response Team
Maimonides Medical Center
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Since becoming a clinical nurse specialist, Dorman has dreamed of being able to advocate for the CNS role. She said the realization of that dream — the implementation of a clinical nurse specialist committee at her facility — is most meaningful to her.

“[Our facility] just recently celebrated our first CNS Week and it proved successful not only in educating staff but also in encouraging and inspiring nurses who are looking to advance their own careers,” Dorman said.

The decision she made to go back to school and pursue the CNS role was a step that has clearly made a lasting impact on her nursing practice, she said. “After learning about the many hats that the CNS wears, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I get to practice nursing in new and exciting ways each and every day.”

Being recognized with the GEM Award is a momentous event, Dorman said. “This award validates 18 years of my professional nursing career. To be valued and respected by fellow nurses is the best award I could ever receive.”

Throughout her career, Dorman has treasured the input of more experienced nurses whose daily words of encouragement and hope carried her through a bad shift, a deadline, a presentation or a loss of patient life. In turn, she now looks for opportunities to offer an uplifting word to new nurses or a peer who is struggling with the day-to-day journey of nursing.

Dorman’s accumulated experience leads her to offer this advice to new nurses: “Nursing is an ever-changing profession. You need to be adaptable and always open to new ideas. Follow your heart and never let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your goals,” she said. “Always continue to learn, volunteer, research, write and stay current in this fast-paced profession. But most of all, stay true to yourself and always remember why you chose to become a nurse.”

Excellence in Community Care

Daniella Casimir, RN
Daniella Casimir, RN

Daniella Casimir, DNP, FNP-BC
Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing
NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases
New York City

“Winning this GEM Award is a defining moment in my career because of my role and the population I represent,” Casimir said. She established New York City’s only primary care outpatient clinic for women and adolescent girls with congenital and acquired physical disabilities.

“Access to healthcare alone is a challenge for these women, and I take great pride in being able to service them and provide quality care to them,” she said. “Knowing that my organization recognized my contributions, and I was chosen for excellence in community care gives me a great sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and joy.”

Advancing her career and nursing practice has depended in part on the wisdom of many mentors. Casimir said they have helped her to wholeheartedly “attend to those under my care and do it with great pride and honor, no matter the challenges or rewards. Going above and beyond is a matter of routine and a principle I stand by in my practice.”  She said this way of thinking has helped her keep patients at the center of her practice.

Casimir is most proud of the successful management of care and implementation of new methods and protocols that minimize risks for secondary infections and hospitalization for this population.  She said women and teens she sees are prone to developing recurrent urinary tract infections because of underlying host factors, and “decreasing the incidence rate of UTIs through best practice methods guided by evidence-based research has been a tremendous feat.”

Now from her own platform of experience and wisdom, Casimir advises nurse colleagues to avoid becoming stagnant; instead each should reach toward the highest level of education in the profession.

“Seek to maintain and acquire new knowledge,” Casimir said. “Leadership skills are developed through servicing one’s patient population with the mindset that no task is ever too small and no demand is ever too big. As they say, if serving is below you, leadership is beyond you.”

Excellence in Education and Mentorship

J. Cedar Wang, RN
J. Cedar Wang, RN

J. Cedar Wang, MSN, RN, APN, GNP-BC, CHSE
Director of Simulation Education
Holy Name Medical Center
Teaneck, N.J.

For Wang, being a GEM Award regional winner showcases the tremendous opportunity simulation has to transform nursing care at the bedside. Wang said simulation, considered a disruptive innovation in healthcare, has not been easily adopted. But she successfully helped implement simulation at her facility.

The out-of-nothing creation of a reputable, sustainable simulation education facility is what she considers her greatest contribution.  “While the equipment is fun and cool, more notable is its impact on patient care,” Wang said. “The real goal is to transform care we deliver so each patient is seen as an important individual with unique and complex needs.”

Wang said there is no magic formula for nursing excellence; rather, nurses have a well-worn path to follow. In a world of ever-increasing automation, escalating diversity and growing disease complexity, nurses should continue to serve as models of compassionate, individualized care, she said.  “This begins with the self-respect to understand one’s mission and motivation in being a nurse,” she said. Nurses need to lead the charge in treating patients as distinct individuals worthy of respect and care, Wang said.

“Balancing family, work and community commitments has forced me to focus on where I need to prioritize the limited impact one human being can have on this world,” Wang said. “I love education because it allows me to influence students and learners and to have an effect on how they care for others.”

Choosing to leave an academic environment four years ago to launch a hospital-based simulation center was a major change in Wang’s personal and professional journey, she said. Wang sees herself following in the steps of nurse mentors who have demonstrated to her the bravery and balance that characterize nursing leadership at its best. Now, as a leader herself, she hopes what she does in the simulation lab ends up at the bedside, represented through those she has trained. “I hope this maximizes my impact on the nursing profession and, ultimately, on the quality of patient care,” she said.

Excellence in Executive Leadership

Jennifer O'Neill, RN
Jennifer O’Neill, RN

Jennifer O’Neill, DNP, APN, NEA-BC
CNO and Vice President of Patient Care Services
Saint Barnabas Medical Center
Livingston, N.J.

The death of O’Neill’s grandfather has been the most impactful experience on her growth as a nurse leader, she said. “Through this experience, although emotionally challenging, I was given the ability to fully experience empathy with patients and families,” O’Neill said. “We must be able to connect authentically with our patients, families, colleagues and employees to care for each other, build teams, build loyalty and achieve results.”

O’Neill also recognizes that following her own career path — away from the leadership track and toward clinical practice as an NP — gave her a unique perspective of the profession.

O’Neill cites the ability to develop a unified team as her greatest accomplishment and the one that makes her most proud. “I value honesty and loyalty,” she said. “It’s important that we communicate clearly and support each other as professionals and friends. Through consistent mentoring and coaching, using tools like emotional intelligence for individuals and sharing results as a team, we identify each other’s strengths to enhance the team’s performance.” O’Neill said her team’s advancement also has improved interdisciplinary collaboration and ultimately the quality of patient care.

Using her own experiences as an example, O’Neill encourages fellow nurses to be lifelong learners, obtaining advanced degrees and multiple certifications in areas of interest. “Become an expert in what you love,” she said. “Surround yourself with positive, honest, influential individuals who will challenge you to become a better leader and person.”

Her own journey, she said, includes several such individuals who have prodded her to venture outside her comfort zone. She’s learned from these mentors never to say no to an opportunity to learn something new. Through her mentors’ influence she has continued to advance her learning through educational opportunities, including advanced degrees and certifications. “[They] have allowed me to fail, recognizing that attempting something new and failing is a learning opportunity and will allow me to reflect and grow,” she said.

Excellence in Management

Laura Llacono, RN
Laura Iacono, RN

Laura Iacono, MSN, CCRN, CNRN, CNML
Nurse Manager, Neurosurgical ICU
North Shore University Hospital
Manhasset, N.Y.

“This in not an award for my accomplishments, but an award that tells the story of a team committed to excellence every day with every patient,” said Iacono when she received the GEM award. She pointed to North Shore University Hospital’s neurosurgical ICU unit winning the AACN Silver Beacon Award for Excellence and the process she and fellow nurses pursued as her proudest moments.

“Now they [the nurses] know the strength of the team is so much stronger than the individual,” Iacono said.  She said the Beacon award confirmed her ability to encourage and empower her staff – and the staff in turn showed a positive attitude on the unit, even under difficult circumstances.

Iacono said the decision to stick with what she knew best and what she enjoyed most—neuroscience nursing—has been instrumental in her practice. “It excites me, it drives me and inspires me every day,” she said.

Iacono offered some words of wisdom to new nurses: “Always ask questions of senior nurses, nurse leaders, physicians and NPs. You will not learn everything if you only rely on your bedside care to gain knowledge.”

With 30 years of neuroscience nursing behind her, Iacono recalled how strongly she felt about the specialty when she began her first position on a neuroscience unit. “I felt I was the luckiest nurse in the hospital,” she said.

An early mentor, Beth Honan, was the educator who passed on to Iacono a depth of knowledge and later met with her and other nurses weekly in preparation for the neuroscience certification exam. “I would watch her talk to physicians about patients and see how the physicians respected her knowledge and judgment, and I knew I wanted to be just like her,” Iacono said of Honan.

Iacono offered some more practical advice: “If a manager, leader or mentor asks you to do something beyond your comfort zone or even outside of your area of interest, say ‘Thank you for the opportunity,’ then take that opportunity and work with it to the end. They may see something in you that you do not see in yourself. You will be surprised at what you can do.”

Rising Star

Susan Schwartzbach, Rn
Sonja Schwartzbach, RN

Sonja Schwartzbach, BSN, RN, CCRN
Registered Nurse, CTICU
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick, N.J.

Unafraid of expressing what might be considered a cliché, Schwartzbach said she feels the most pride when she can connect on a human level with her patients and their families. Because she often sees people “on the worst days of their lives,” she said anything she can do to lighten the burden is just as important to her as it is to her patients.

Her career choices have been deliberate, Schwartzbach said, including her carefully thought-out decision to defer pursuing an advanced degree. Instead she is combining her passion for patient care with the freedom to write and publish her work.

Being selected as a nurse blogger for the Huffington Post has served as validation that one does not necessarily have to take a traditional path to serve as a voice or create change. “That opportunity created a pivot in the direction of my work, both at the bedside and in the written capacity,” she said. “It showed me that my voice could resonate with others and, perhaps spark change and progress in the nursing community.”

Schwartzbach acknowledged that much of her learning resulted from her colleagues’ guidance. “When I first started in the ICU, I was taught that I’m responsible for how my patient’s day will go,” she said. “It’s up to me — the nurse — to advocate for this person.”

Practicing this advocacy has instilled in Schwartzbach the understanding that knowing when and how to speak up for patients is not always easy, but it’s necessary. “It requires effective delivery, direct communication and following your instinct.  Even if nine times out of 10 you’re simply being a neurotic ICU nurse, that 10th time can save someone’s life,” she said.

Speaking to other nurses, Schwartzbach offered these tips: “If you remind yourself why you chose the nursing profession, or in some instances why it picked you, it will help you recalibrate. Only you can dictate what you will stand for and what needs change, only you can be responsible for your choices and actions, and only you know what will truly keep you happy, fulfilled and passionate in your work.”

To comment, email editor@nurse.com.


About the author

Karen Schmidt, RN 

Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer.

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