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Florida's 2012 Nursing Excellence Award winners chosen

Monday October 8, 2012
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Earlier in the year, Nurse.com called upon Florida nurses to take the time to nominate their colleagues for the 2012 Nursing Excellence program. Nominations from across the state that detailed the stellar careers of RNs who put forth amazing efforts every day on behalf of patients and fellow nurses were narrowed to 18 regional finalists. From this group, six regional winners, the finest of the finest, were selected.

“We consider it a true privilege to recognize nursing excellence through our awards program,” said Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and CNE for Gannett Healthcare Group. “We wait with great anticipation for this opportunity; truly, it is one of the highlights of the year for us at Nurse.com.”

The Florida Nursing Excellence winners — a clinical educator, an assistant professor, two charge nurses, a director of emergency services and a team manager for hospice care — are individuals whose motivations to become top-notch nurses include their own personal journeys, special patients and, of course, their love of the profession. Their success in their roles and their common denominator — being standout RNs on a mission to serve — makes the winners shining examples of what it takes to be an RN.

The six regional winners each will receive an elegant, sail-shaped, etched-glass award to commemorate their wins.


Solimar Figueroa, RN
(Photo by Rolando Rodriguez)
Advancing and Leading the Profession

Solimar Figueroa, RN, MSN, MHA
Clinical educator
Baptist Health South Florida
Miami

Figueroa was at a midweek church service reading Scripture on her iPhone when she noticed a new email. It said, “Congratulations,” but she became confused and wondered if she really had won the Nursing Excellence award. She then handed the phone to her husband.

“I asked him, ‘Am I reading it correctly?’” she said. “He smiled and hugged me and said, ‘Yes, you’re reading it correctly.’”

So many things ran through her mind, from being grateful and humbled by the award to becoming incredulous because of the many other colleagues who work to educate and prepare nurses through preceptorship.

She affirms a tremendous respect for the profession, even if she, personally, didn’t choose the career for herself. “I am so in awe and inspired by the many faces of nursing,” she said.

Figueroa’s father, who died at age 47, had diabetes and asthma and urged her to become a physician or nurse so she could care for him. Though nursing was not her first choice for a career, she fell in love with the OR where she worked for more than two decades.

It was when she decided to leave the OR to spend more time with her sons that she discovered a new passion — helping new nurses and residents become comfortable within the practice setting. She worked diligently to develop the married state model at Baptist Health South Florida, which pairs a preceptor with a new graduate throughout the orientation process. As soon as she became acquainted with new students and residents, it became evident that what literature was saying — there is a gap between theory and practice — rang true. Now, she mentors, educates, debriefs and consults through preceptor classes that have served almost 4,000 nurses since the beginning of the program. But her work doesn’t stop there.

Figueroa’s goal is to close the chasm globally by helping nurses reach professional goals and climb the clinical ladder. She reaches out to nurses in other states through conferences, her book on shared governance and face-to-face meetings with nurse leaders who want to implement the model at their facilities.

She plans to finish her PhD and continue her work as a clinical educator, which she said enables her to see nurses touch countless lives through holistic care.

“I am a visionary who dreams big,” she said. “I have the passion to be the best that I can be at anything I do, so whatever charge, whatever project I conceive, I give my all.”


Karen Keny Swager, RN
(Photo by Rolando Rodriguez)
Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Karen Keny Swager, RN, BC
Charge nurse-orthopedics
Martin Health System, Hospital South
Stuart, Fla.

Karen Swager started her nursing career later than others — at age 35 — but her timing was just right. She arrived to meet Tommy*, a cognitively impaired patient who was afraid of everyone. But Tommy wasn’t scared of Swager. He opened up to her and made her realize becoming a nurse was a good choice. Tommy’s caregiver sent a letter to the hospital’s CEO, talking of the “magical connection” she’d made. Swager can’t tell the story without getting choked up.

“That was my ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said. “He’s the reason I’m still a nurse.”
After 12 years spent as a charge nurse, Swager’s “go get ’em” attitude, teamwork and leadership skills led to a nomination from co-worker Carrie Coppola, RN, C.

“I never really knew that I stood out to her as much as she stands out to me,” Swager said.

Swager prides herself on the rapport she builds with physicians, surgeons, nurses and patients. She’s a resourceful nurse and “a cheerleader on tough days,” according to Coppola. Working on scheduling one moment and bathing a patient the next to pitch in, fostering her team is her greatest motivation.

“It drives me to get up and go to work every day,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get me to leave.”

A fearless patient advocate, Swager once convinced a surgeon to operate on an elderly woman with a hip fracture and a bad heart. Susie* just asked for a chance and didn’t want to die in hospice where she’d never walk again, Swager said.

“She just wrapped her finger around my heart strings,” she said.

Susie not only survived the surgery, but she’s also now healthy and active at 93 years old — and she keeps in touch.

Swager recalled another time when she and her team had been trying to resuscitate a patient for three hours when the physician finally ended the code.

“I went to say goodbye to him and realized he was breathing on his own,” she said. “Eight weeks later, James* went on a cruise.”

Like treasures in a jewelry box, Tommy, Susie and James represent the valuable gems in her nursing career. Continuing to advocate for patients and serve as a leader are goals for Swager, who completed an Emerging Leaders course three years ago. She plans to apply for a clinical coordinator position to help patient care leaders with their work. “The leadership course helped me to realize that I’m where I want to be,” Swager said.

*Names changed.


Park Balevre, RN
(Photo by Portrait Innovations)
Education and Mentorship

Park S. Balevre, RN-BC, MSN
Assistant professor
Chamberlain College of Nursing
Jacksonville, Fla.

Surprised and humbled by the news he’d won, Balevre reflected on the high admiration he has for his nominator, Katherine Dimmock, former CCN president, who brought him to Chamberlain to teach after he’d spent 35 years in private clinical practice.

Next, the win reminded him of his wife, Debbie, who died two years ago from cancer. He credited her for observing and encouraging his passion for teaching. “This [award] is the validation that, ‘yeah, honey, you were right.’”

Balevre’s classes can be described in one word: fun. He excites students by engaging them with movies — he provides the popcorn — to discuss ethical issues facing nurses every day. He allows them to self-grade portions of their tests, which charges them with accountability and infuses them with improved test-taking and critical-thinking abilities. Often, he’ll bring senior nursing students into his new classes for question and answer sessions to alleviate the new students’ fears or concerns. It’s no wonder he has said he can’t go to work without smiling. “I’m just thrilled to be here every day,” he said.

Balevre continues to offer writing workshops to give future nurses a voice, sharing his own passion for research and helping them to discover what it means to practice from a base of evidence. He has been working to reduce nurse burnout such as “compassion fatigue” through his own research, published in the Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, and he recently accepted a position to serve on the publication’s editorial review board. Balevre also is part of its affiliated organization, the Association of Nurses in Professional Development, in which he works to update nurses on patient care procedures and policies, how to deal with on-the-job emotions and what’s important for professional development.

Balevre encourages his students to put together YouTube videos, podcasts or whatever medium they choose to complete projects, giving them ownership of the class. In his opinion, everyone is on an endless journey of learning, and he charges his students to “show me something I haven’t seen before.” Many times, his future nurses share technologies like texting, Twitter and most recently Prezi, a Web-based presentation application. He even offers extra credit points for unusual cell phone ring tones he hasn’t heard.

To see new people, influence lives and help nurses pass their state boards to become RNs truly is exciting, he said. “[Teaching] is really an area where blessings abound.”


Alejandro L. Medina, RN
(Photo by Rolando Rodriguez)
Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Alejandro L. Medina, RN, BSN, EMT-P
OR charge nurse
South Florida Surgery Center, Miami

Medina joked that no one would nominate him for a Nursing Excellence Award because the nomination form was too lengthy to fill out. But to his surprise, nine nominators submitted forms, including plastic surgeon Jose Perez-Gurri, MD, who said he would allow Medina to care for his own mother, wife and children.

“That’s the biggest pat on the back you can get,” Medina said. “It’s really flattering to be nominated by my colleagues and to know that the people I work with hold me in such high regard.”

A nurse for 15 years, Medina started out in chemo oncology where he was affected deeply by the loss of his patients. One in particular, a mother with stage 4 ovarian cancer, left behind a daughter about his same age who presented him with a teddy bear to show her appreciation for his outstanding patient care.

“I still have that bear,” Medina said. “She told me to never change and she told me that I was one of the greatest nurses that she had ever met. That will be with me forever.”

In the OR, he became focused on best patient outcomes. Never cutting corners, Medina is one who goes above and beyond the call to ensure patient satisfaction. It’s a challenge considering he faces an average of 700 cases per month such as colonoscopies, laparoscopic procedures and orthopedic and plastic surgeries.
“I make sure the patient has a great outcome, the surgeon is happy and I’m happy,” he said. “It’s ultimately for the patient’s benefit.”

The news of the award came while he was in the OR where he has worked for three years and recently was appointed charge nurse. It was quite fitting to be surrounded by some of those nominators, like urologist Cosme Gomez, who was instrumental in getting Medina hired and called him “enviably empathetic” in his approach to patients.
“When I realized I had won, I jumped out of my seat and threw my hands up in the air.

Everybody started applauding, and it became a little scene here in the OR,” Medina said. “After work, we went off to celebrate. I’m still in shock. I thank everyone who nominated me and who have been supporting me. Thanks to my son for being the light of my life.”

Medina plans to pursue an education degree with a goal of teaching at the university level one day.

“I knew after I put my time in on the floor I needed to give back,” he said. “I want to make the profession better.”


Peggy S. Karrh, RN
(Photo by Rolando Rodriguez)
Patient and Staff Management

Peggy S. Karrh, RN, MSN
Director of emergency services,
psych admissions, CV cath lab
West Palm Hospital (formerly Columbia Hospital)
West Palm Beach, Fla.

Living and working in south Florida, Karrh has seen many older patients spend their final moments in the ED. On one occasion, a wife accompanied her husband to the ED in the ambulance. He died a short time after arriving at the hospital. The wife was left to grieve alone and had no ride home. Karrh comforted her, helped her contact relatives, drove her home and arranged for her to stay at a neighbor’s house so she wouldn’t be alone.

“She thanked me over and over again,” Karrh said.

Karrh was able to care for both of her aging parents before they died and ranked those moments among the greatest in her 32-year career.

Her years as a nurse have been spent managing staff and caring for countless patients — including a U.S. president and the Prince of Wales. She has been recognized as Palm Beach County’s Palm Healthcare Nurse of the Year and Nursing Leader of the Year and was honored for stroke and heart programs in which she plays a part.

Karrh is passionate about the concept of family, viewing staff as her extended family, and she believes her patients’ families play an integral role in wellness.

“I like caring for the patients, and I like to include the loved ones [in the care plan],” she said. “We have to include everybody for patient-centered care.”

Like puzzle pieces, staff and family can come together to make a patient whole. “I make sure all the puzzle pieces fit together,” she said.

Karrh knew curtain partitions in the ED were not sufficient for privacy. Working with architects, she implemented private ED rooms at two different hospitals. The five-year process, she said, was “honestly, a great time.”

From volunteering at health fairs to speaking about disaster preparedness, Karrh is just as passionate about the community. She serves on councils and committees and is a panel presenter on ED issues for nursing conferences.

At West Palm, she has been working with staff since February on a cardiovascular cath lab.

“There are not enough years left in my life to do all that I want to do,” she said.
She called winning the Nursing Excellence Award an honor, privilege and great encouragement.

“Hopefully I was chosen because of my passion and love for nursing,” she said. “I loved it from the day I started it.”


Don Mathew Dolan, RN
(Photo by Rolando Rodriguez)
Volunteerism and Service

Don Mathew Dolan, RN, MS
Team manager
Vitas Innovative Hospice Care
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Dolan, who was born with what he calls “a servant’s heart,” grew up in a family of 12 where everyone shared and helped out daily.

Acknowledging the Nursing Excellence Award is difficult for Dolan without pointing out those who’ve helped him achieve his goals of serving those in need. “I am humbled by somebody nominating me, but it’s really all of us,” he said. “It’s not just me keeping the movement going.”

On the 25-bed hospice unit he manages at Vitas, Dolan said, he ensures each patient is “treated with dignity.” It was what caused him to reach out to someone in need who was literally just outside the doors of his facility. Two years ago, he rescued a homeless patient dying of breast cancer, her adult daughter who had bipolar disorder and their dog, all of whom were living in the hospital parking lot. He arranged for all of them to be taken into his unit. The woman died peacefully three days later, knowing her daughter and dog were in good hands. Dolan also contacted a clinic to help the daughter with care and housing. “I knew it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Countless times in the past decade, Dolan has filled his truck with wheelchairs, beds and other donations for Hope Hospice in Jamaica. His tenacity has resulted in more than 10,000 pairs of eyeglasses being donated to the University of Miami Lion Eye Bank and used at free eye clinics. Dolan also collected another 2,000 pairs in the past four months from Vitas staff and patients and their families, as well as Tenet Florida Medical Center and HCA Northwest Medical Center. And there are many other organizations he has helped through the years. “Ultimately, the reward everybody reaps from it is a sense of accomplishment for helping those in need,” he said. “It connects everybody.”

Dolan’s facility has been a leader in giving through word-of-mouth donations. That model has been duplicated at other Vitas locations. “It just keeps spreading beyond belief,” he said.

Dolan’s success doesn’t come only from asking people for monetary and material donations; it comes from never taking “no” for an answer. He even keeps himself in check. “If I reach into my pocket and there’s nothing there, I wonder, ‘what can I do with an empty pocket?’” he said.

He plans to continue his work with Hope Hospice Jamaica. “We all have one cause, and compassion has no borders,” he said. “We’re able to change the world, one little bit at a time, and I get to be a part of it.”

HOW ARE WINNERS CHOSEN?

NOMINATED by nurses • SELECTED by nurses • HONORED by nurses

NOMINATE
Nominators around the U.S. submit information about nurses’ professional roles and contributions, including examples that demonstrate the candidates’ excellence in one of six categories.

SELECT
Finalist nominations are blinded and sent to a panel of judges comprised of nurse leaders. Each winner is determined by the ratings of those blinded nominations.

HONOR
The six regional winners will be honored at their facilities and will move forward to be evaluated with other regional winners across the country.

At the end of the year, Nurse.com will commend an overall Nurse of the Year in each of the six categories.



Stefanie Dell'Aringa is a former copy editor for Nurse.com. Post a comment below or email editorSouth@nurse.com.