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 Midwest GEM program took place Sept. 30 at the Chicago Renaissance Downtown.
Nurse.com is pleased to introduce the 2016 Nurse.com GEM Awards regional winners and rising star from the Midwest region.
Excellence in Clinical Nursing
Debra Skopec, BSN, RN, NIC-BC
Neonatal Outcomes RN, NICU
Advocate Children’s Hospital-Oak Lawn (Ill.)
Skopec said winning the GEM Award for Excellence in Clinical Nursing was “an incredible affirmation of my personal calling from my nursing colleagues and community.” She called this recognition her “nursing Oscar,” and said hearing her name announced as a GEM winner made her feel shocked, excited, elated, grateful and humbled.
Skopec started her career as a staff nurse in the NICU 32 years ago, and said assuming the role of neonatal outcomes nurse at Advocate Children’s has had the greatest impact on her professional journey. “I have learned to search for the best evidence to drive our practice and to mentor others in these practices,” she said.
Skopec motivates her colleagues with the motto, “Never say we can’t, say how can we?” She led the NICU team to reduce chronic lung disease in premature infants, collaborating with other NICUs across the United States. The NICU at Advocate Children’s surpassed the goal staff members set, reducing the rate of chronic lung disease by more than half, from 22% to 10.3%, and assisted other NICUs to improve their outcomes as well.
Another accomplishment Skopec is particularly proud of is the car seat challenge program she initiated to ensure families are properly educated in car seat safety. Through this involvement, she was appointed to the Safe Kids Illinois committee. She also coordinated a retinopathy of prematurity eye disease program for the NICU, which has resulted in decreased rates of ROP. She initiated a related program to educate staff about appropriate oxygen saturation guidelines to prevent ROP.
Skopec said she is grateful to mentors who encouraged her to never stop learning. “They pushed me beyond my comfort zone to present my knowledge to large gatherings of healthcare professionals, and stood by my side when my knees were trembling,” she said.
Skopec gives similar advice and support to her colleagues. “Push yourself, it’s OK to be a little uncomfortable in new situations,” she said. Skopec encourages teamwork and treating “everyone you work with as a valued member of your healthcare team.” She is passionate about mentoring new nurses and helping them grow professionally, “because they are our future.”
Excellence in Community Care
Michele Rubin, MSN, APN, CSN-BC, CGRN
Clinical Nurse Specialist, Colorectal Surgery
University of Chicago Medicine
Winning the GEM award for Community Care Nursing made Rubin feel proud to be among a group of nurses who exemplify character and excellence. Rubin said nursing always has been her passion, so receiving an award for doing what she does naturally is amazing.
Rubin, a known leader in the inflammatory bowel disease nursing community, credits University of Chicago Medicine for its excellence in nursing professionalism, which, she said, was the foundation for her to gain the knowledge she needed to integrate evidence-based clinical research, write articles and book chapters and become an IBD nurse specialist.
Rubin said she is most proud of the difference she makes in patients’ lives. “Hearing that I have helped them better manage and understand their disease, addressed their questions and put a little humor back into their lives — this is what drives my passion to do what I do as a nurse,” she said.
Rubin advises fellow nurses to follow their passion, and be the best they can be. “You may surprise yourself as to what heights you can reach,” she said.
Rubin said her decision to leave a farm town in Iowa to work at the University of Chicago Hospital made a big difference in her professional journey. “I felt the excitement that comes when you surround yourself with world-class professionals who focus on discoveries to advance patient care and save lives,” she said. Rubin found she loved working with patients with chronic IBD, and says she is rewarded when patients tell her, “I am so glad you are still here caring for us, as I know I will be in good hands.”
One of Rubin’s greatest mentors was her mother, who she said was “responsible for my desire and passion for the nursing profession.” Her mother was a nursing assistant who taught her nursing was not a job but an opportunity to “help people, and heal them with a touch and words of kindness.”
Rubin also recognized the clinical nurse specialists she encountered, who inspired her with their expertise in caring for specialized populations.
As a nursing leader for the national Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Rubin helped organize the Nurse and Advanced Practice Providers Committee, whose quality of care initiatives have improved the care nurses give to patients with IBD.
Excellence in Education and Mentorship
Molly Moran, MSN, RN, CCRN
Clinical Nurse Educator, PICU
Rush University Medical Center
Moran said she was in complete shock when she heard her name announced as regional winner of the GEM award for Education and Mentorship. She said being named a finalist and “having the opportunity to be in a room with so many accomplished colleagues was, in my mind, already such an accomplishment.”
As a clinical nurse educator at Rush, Moran said, she enjoys the unique opportunities she has to partner with an interdisciplinary team and to truly influence nursing practice. She said she is proud of the contributions she has made creating systems and tools that “empower nurses to work at the top of their license.”
Looking back at her nursing career, Moran said, she hit a crossroad when she decided to go back to school for her master’s degree. Many of her friends chose the advanced practice/nurse practitioner route, but Moran was more interested in nursing education and healthcare systems, and ultimately decided to pursue an MSN in nursing education. “Choosing the program and career path that was right for me made all the difference,” she said.
Moran feels fortunate to have had several mentors throughout her nursing career, but said one in particular stands out. “Barb Haag-Heitman, PhD, RN, has willingly sacrificed her time to listen to concerns I have or new goals I have set for the future,” Moran said. “She has been supportive without being controlling, allowing me to make my own mistakes without ever making me feel like a failure” Moran said, adding that she empowers Moran “to persevere and look at challenges in a new way.”
Moran tells colleagues to take advantage of the fact that nursing has an incredible number of career paths and so many doors. Rather than starting with a long-term plan, she recommends, seeing where the work and opportunities take them. It’s not surprising that this GEM-winning nurse educator advises nurses to never stop learning. “We owe it to our patients and colleagues to continue to challenge ourselves to be consistent, competent and always pushing the boundaries of what is possible for the overall care of our patients,” she said.
Excellence in Executive Leadership
Patricia Nedved, MSN, RN, CENP, FABC
Acting Vice President of Nursing, Chief Nursing Officer
and Associate Dean of Nursing Practice
Rush University Medical Center
Hearing her name announced as the GEM Award winner for Executive Leadership, Nedved said she felt a mix of emotions, including disbelief, gratitude and joy. Nedved said winning this honor was a humbling experience, and that “the only way to be recognized with this award is to have a great team of colleagues to partner with in leadership.”
Nedved is proud of leading her team through the Ebola crisis, ensuring 3,000 employees were prepared and trained in three weeks. Other accomplishments include leading her nursing staff to attain its fourth Magnet designation and increasing nursing satisfaction as measured by an employee engagement survey. Nedved said the connections she made with front-line staff during the multiple initiatives she implemented “continue to drive and inspire me.”
Nedved believes the path to career advancement does not require a map. “I’ve never been someone focused on a timeline and needing to be in a certain role by this point of my life,” she said. “I’ve always taken advantage of the opportunities presented to me. It’s helped to keep me challenged, growing and not alarmed if something didn’t follow a plan.”
Reflecting on her professional journey, Nedved said two decisions were pivotal. The first was choosing to leave an academic medical center after 12.5 years for a leadership position in a flagship community hospital. Nedved said the community setting helped her develop many skills outside of her position. Her second major decision, to return to Rush, gave her the opportunity to explore a professional development and quality role and ultimately hold the interim CNO position, a move she said has been “tremendous and fun.”
Nedved is grateful to two strong mentors who influenced her career. “They presented me with challenges that took me out of where I was most comfortable, and allowed me to grow, learn new skills and lead,” she said.
Excellence in Management
Diane Stonner, MSN, RN, APN, RNC-NIC
Patient Care Manager, NICU
Northwestern Medicine/Prentice Women’s Hospital
Stonner said she didn’t expect to win the GEM Award for Excellence in Management. Just being part of the GEM Awards celebration, where “all the finalists were winners,” made her feel proud to be a nurse, she said.
At Northwestern Memorial, Stonner has full operational responsibility of an 86-bed neonatal intensive care unit, plus a six-bed satellite. What gives her the most professional satisfaction is the privilege of leading a wonderful team of nurses who are truly committed to patients and their families in the NICU.
Stonner said she is thankful for having mentors who lead by example and inspired her to succeed. They gave her the drive to think outside the box and lead with passion, she said.
She passes this same advice on to her nursing peers. “Take risks and aim high,” she said. “Take your passion in nursing to the next level.”
She also believes in helping nurses who are just starting out. “Encourage and support the novices in the field,” she said. “They are our future experts and nursing leaders.”
Stonner is proud of the significant improvements in Press Ganey patient satisfaction scores and in staff engagement that have occurred under her managerial leadership. Her nominator calls Stonner “the mortar between the bricks that holds the foundation of our NICU.”
Stonner said the decision to further her education by obtaining a master’s degree in advanced practice nursing had the greatest impact on her professional development. “I feel the complement of bedside nursing, working as an APN and leadership has contributed to my success in the role of manager,” she said.
An example is the way Stonner has used her leadership skills to improve the rate of exclusive breast milk feeding in the NICU. This rate went from 15% in 2011 to a current rate of 65%, using strategies such as including RNs as breast-feeding counselors, having donor breast milk available on site and providing lactation consults when needed.
David Chilicki, BSN, RN, ONC
Nurse Clinician, Exceptional Practice
Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest (Ill.) Hospital
When David Chilicki learned he was the 2016 Midwest Rising Star, he said he was completely shocked and extremely humbled. For Chilicki, being named a Rising Star meant that “my co-workers and the leadership at Lake Forest Hospital recognize the work I have done since becoming a nurse,” he said. “It reinforces to me that I should continue to strive to always be better.”
Chilicki is especially proud of his role in supporting new nurses as a preceptor and charge nurse at Lake Forest. “I feel that being young in my career has allowed me to connect with our new nurses and help them through that difficult transition into practice,” he said. He said caring for his colleagues translates into better patient care. “If I can fix the little problems or give them the tools to feel confident in their practice, then I know they will be better equipped to provide exceptional care to our patients,” he said.
Two pieces of advice that have guided him most in his practice: “Always listen to your gut,” and “Never feel badly about asking for help.”
Chilicki appreciates two mentors who inspired him with the understanding that no one knows everything, and that nurses do their best work when they can trust their colleagues to be there to support them in good and bad times.
This Rising Star tells other new nurses to take every opportunity to get involved at work. Chilicki said agreeing to assist with several hospitalwide projects and being a super-user for new technology had a positive impact on his professional development and led to his current role.
“I learned so much about what it really takes to run a hospital, as well as how influential nurses can be in creating a better environment for ourselves, our patients and our community,” he said.
Chilicki believes the key to advancement is to keep up with the constant changes in nursing and healthcare. He recommends nurses get involved with shared governance and sharing what they learn with colleagues. Doing so, he said, can make you a better nurse and profoundly impact the lives of your patients and your co-workers.
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