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 Mid-Atlantic GEM program took place Sept. 23 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.
Nurse.com is pleased to introduce the 2016 Nurse.com GEM Awards regional winners and rising star from the Mid-Atlantic region.
Excellence in Clinical Nursing
Lauren Micale, BSN, RN, CPHON
Clinical Nurse, Bone Marrow Transplant/Hematology
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Micale was honored to be a finalist at the Mid-Atlantic GEM Awards ceremony. Being named a regional winner made it all the more memorable for her.
“It was an incredible experience to be a part of the [ceremony] in the company of inspiring and outstanding nurses who have contributed so much to the profession,” she said. “To be nominated by one of my mentors, selected as a finalist, and announced as a regional winner makes me feel incredibly proud of everything I have worked so hard to accomplish for my patients, families and colleagues.”
A pediatric hematology/oncology/blood and bone transplant nurse on a 24-bed inpatient unit, Micale led a taskforce that was instrumental in dramatically reducing CLABSI rates, and as a bilingual nurse, she takes pride in her advocacy for Spanish-speaking patients and their families.
Among her many accomplishments, Micale said taking the certification exam for her nursing specialty had a great impact on her professional journey. “It propelled my desire to further develop my clinical expertise through continuing education and attendance at local and national conferences,” she said.
She also pointed to the importance of her decision to become involved in nursing practice, saying that, as a result, “I have achieved many things that have helped my patients, families, and colleagues, and sometimes even improved patient outcomes. It also has helped me to develop into a teacher, mentor and leader.”
Micale led a group to create a nursing care plan for acute graft versus host disease; spearheaded a project to develop educational materials and curriculum for bone marrow transplant patients and families; and helped to develop an interdisciplinary plan of care and a restructure of nursing care plans and documentation.
She said mentorship is important in nursing, and advises her colleagues to work with a mentor or mentor another nurse. “It will bring great professional benefit to you both,” Micale said.
Micale also advises her colleagues to become involved in their nursing organization and take specialty nursing certification exams. “Most importantly,” she said, “find something that you feel passionate about in nursing and get involved. You never know what you can achieve.”
Excellence in Community Care
Meghan Walker, MSN, RN, CBCN
Breast Nurse Navigator, Cancer Center
Paoli (Pa.) Hospital
Walker has changed the way care is given to patients without insurance or with poor insurance. Until Walker’s arrival, patients with abnormal breast screening findings diagnosed in one of the two community clinics associated with the hospital were not seen by a surgeon before biopsy, which was different from the way all other patients seen at the breast center were treated.
Walker said recognizing that patients from the community clinics were being treated differently made her take action. “I sought to change the process so that all patients, regardless of insurance status, are provided with the same pathway and steps throughout the diagnostic workup and potential treatment for breast cancer,” she said.
Her attitude toward patient care is evident in the way she described how it felt to be named a GEM Awards regional winner.
“I feel humbled to be a GEM recipient, and I was inspired by all of the wonderful GEM finalists,” Walker said. “Most importantly, being a GEM recipient is a reminder that patient care is a great privilege and that we, as nurses, are very fortunate to serve our patients.”
She added she is “proud that we are providing the same superior patient experience for all patients.”
Walker was an unlikely candidate to even be in her current role at Paoli. Although she had years of inpatient oncology experience, she had no experience as a breast nurse navigator when she applied for the position. But she has no regrets about making career decisions that were “a bit risky.”
“I have learned that when you want something, you go for it with your heart and soul and by putting your best foot forward,” she said. “It is better to try and not get it than to never try and always wonder.”
In Walker’s role as breast nurse navigator, she often makes phone calls and personal visits to newly diagnosed patients to ease their fears during this critical and emotional time in their lives.
She advises young nurses “to always do the right thing,” noting that “if the needs of the patient come first and you work hard, everything else will fall into place.”
Excellence in Education and Mentorship
Gwyn Parris-Atwell, MSN, RN, APN-C, CEN, FAEN, CS
Nurse Practitioner, Employee Health, Kennedy Health
Chief Nurse, 514th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
USAF Reserve Unit, McGuire Air Force Base
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
Parris-Atwell has spent her career trying to improve the lives of others, whether it’s the patients she has helped as a civilian and military nurse or the colleagues she has mentored. For her service in both areas, she has received numerous honors and awards.
But being named a regional GEM Awards winner was something special for Parris-Atwell.
“When Eileen Williamson announced my name as the recipient of this prestigious award, at that moment it defined my professional career,” she said. “I was overwhelmed with gratitude and pride for my employer, fellow associates and Air Force Reserve comrades.”
Parris-Atwell is responsible for strategic planning, coordination, delegation and leadership of about 50 nursing service personnel in her squadron and is responsible for a wing of about 2,400 airmen. She has an uncanny ability to influence nurses to become educators and to build programs she started.
Parris-Atwell said she joined the military as a reservist after attending her first New Jersey Emergency Nurses Association conference, where she spoke with Army nurse recruiters. She called it “one of the best decisions I have made in my career.”
Parris-Atwell said she received support early in her military career from her chief nurse, who served as faculty at a local university and from a senior military nurse who was the president of the American Nurses Association. “Both of these nurse leaders influenced many decisions I have made across the span of my career,” she said. “Mentoring by military nurses is second to none.”
Furthermore, she noted the importance of reaching out to nurses she admired early in her career and establishing a mentoring relationship.
Parris-Atwell said she is most proud of implementing courses such as board certification classes and specialty courses in her civilian hospital and on military bases while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Her advice to young nurses is simple: “First and foremost, stay in nursing. There are unlimited opportunities in our profession.” She also said it is important to establish goals, both personally and professionally, and that “short- and long-term goals will provide a roadmap for your career and ultimately lead to your success.
“This award is dedicated to all nurse mentors, educators and leaders who have inspired nurses throughout their careers,” Parris-Atwell said.
Excellence in Executive Leadership
Janet Davies, MSN, RN, APN, CCNS, CENP
Vice President of Patient Care Services
Inspira Health Network-Vineland/Elmer (N.J.)
Being selected a regional winner left Davies “surprised and so excited,” but considering her history of pushing others to achieve meaningful recognition, perhaps it was fitting she should win.
Davies is responsible for approximately 900 clinical nurses and nursing leaders in a three-hospital system, and she takes great pride in being a mentor to many of them and seeing them achieve professional and academic growth.
“Our management team has completed or is in the process of completing a master’s degree,” she said. “I am proud of our identification of future leaders and succession planning to develop those identified as nursing leaders.”
Beyond mentorship, Davies points to specific moments and decisions she made that helped her become the nurse she is today, including her many clinical experiences, pursuit of higher education and certification to build her confidence, and even the choice to leave “the comfort of my first job,” which she said was “difficult but forced me to become more independent.”
Davies’ advice to new nurses is “to develop a mindset of lifelong learning and setting new goals.”
Davies not only advocates for individuals to work toward goals of professional recognition but for hospital units to do the same. She supported each of the organization’s four ICUs to earn the Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence, and she oversaw Inspira’s achievement of becoming the first New Jersey hospital designated Baby Friendly by the WHO.
More recently, she lent her leadership support to one of the organization’s med/surg units in becoming the first unit in New Jersey and only the 10th in the nation to receive the Premier Recognition in the Specialty of Med-Surg Award.
Davies credits her own success to mentors, from the clinical mentors early in her career, to those who assisted in her development as an APN during her graduate program, and even today as vice president of patient care services.
“In my current role, I have an excellent mentor in our COO Betty Sheridan,” Davies said. “Betty guides, coaches and encourages me to develop in areas that will strengthen me as a leader.”
Excellence in Management
Stephan McDonald, MSN, RN
Nurse Manager, ED
Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals
McDonald helped lead an ED redesign that has improved access to emergency care and significantly reduced door-to-provider times and left-without-being-seen rates at the inner-city hospital, a project coined “ED 2.0.”
Beyond the service improvements to patients the redesign achieved, McDonald said he is most proud of the cultural improvements made over the past few years that have allowed the department to institute such radical change. “We have always had an amazing staff,” he said. “We are now much more engaged, positive, team-oriented and, most importantly, patient-centered.”
In reflecting on his career, McDonald pointed to a moment several years ago when he was working as an ED staff member. “I had an ‘aha’ moment one day when reflecting on bad professional behaviors I had witnessed for many years, some of which I had adopted,” he said.
“In that moment, I grew up and stopped compromising my personal and professional values,” he said. “Overnight my feelings of despair with my job were relieved. I was proud of the work I was doing again.”
He hopes other nurses will heed his advice “to never compromise your personal and professional values.”
McDonald’s nominator added that he was responsible for improvements not only in quality and service metrics, but also in RN satisfaction rates.
In reflecting on his career, McDonald said he has used what he has learned over the years to become a leader.
After being named the regional winner in the Excellence in Management category during the GEM Awards ceremony, McDonald, who oversees a staff of 109 RNs and 40 technicians, thanked many of those he believed shared credit for the award. Later, he said, “I’m glad I recognized Nurse.com, my amazing staff and supervisory team, Joe, Anton, my boss, mentor and friend, my physician colleagues and my beautiful family but I forgot to specifically thank my nominator, Kate Patrizzi (Deis), and Dr. Olan Soremekun, who co-led ED 2.0.”
Rachel Lehman, BSN, RN
Registered Nurse, MICU
Abington (Pa.) Hospital Jefferson Health
A clinical nurse at an acute care, nonprofit hospital, Lehman is responsible for delivering care for a diverse patient population, including pre- and post-surgical patients, patients with acute neurological injury and medical patients with complex illnesses.
She has demonstrated leadership skills beyond her years, joining the hospital’s shared governance committee and six months later assuming the role of co-chairwoman of this unit-based group. Within another four months, she was elected to chair her specialty cluster, and within another six months, she was appointed as a member of the network nursing council.
Lehman, who said she was “humbled and tremendously honored” to be named a GEM Awards winner, called her work in shared governance the “greatest contribution to my facility during my first years of practice.”
Lehman said her best career move was to get involved at the unit level and beyond, and dive into work she was not sure she could handle. “With effort and time, as well as teamwork with engaged colleagues, I have been able to accomplish a lot, and it makes me excited to see what the future could hold,” she said.
Lehman said she would encourage other new nurses to “get involved. Even if it means you step outside your comfort zone, you will be better for it, both as a nurse and an individual.”
After attending the American Organization of Nurse Executives’ Dynamic Leadership in Shared Governance conference in September 2015, Lehman was inspired to share the information she learned with her fellow nurses.
Along with two colleagues, Lehman developed a PowerPoint presentation for nursing staff and management and later developed and designed a shared governance packet that was distributed to more than 100 managers and almost 200 staff nurses. The goal is to have every nurse understand shared governance and how greatly it affects practice.
The term “role model” in nursing usually is reserved for those with many years on the job, but that’s how Lehman’s nominator for the GEM Rising Star Award described this young nurse.
Tom Clegg, a freelance writer, contributed to the writing and research of this article.
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