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Excellent!: Introducing the 2012 Nursing Excellence national winners

Friday November 2, 2012
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Nurse.com is proud to announce the six national winners of its 2012 Nursing Excellence Awards.

“From the bedside to the boardroom, the clinic to the classroom, at home and abroad, the stories of excellence continue to come in to us year after year,” said Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive, Nurse.com. “Managers or volunteers, researchers or clinicians, beginning staff nurses or seasoned educators, they are the personification of professional nursing accomplishment, and worthy indeed of the recognition our excellence program affords them.”

This year’s pool of nominees was among the largest in program’s history, Williamson said. The awards process, sponsored nationally by The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future and the University of Phoenix College of Nursing, begins when colleagues nominate RNs for regional recognition in six categories. Regional winners advance to a pool of national finalists whose nominations are blinded and judged by Nurse.com National Advisory Board members. One national winner is chosen from each category.

“Nurse.com’s nursing excellence program, a vital part of our company mission for nearly two decades, has become the largest and most unique of its kind in the nation,” Williamson said. •

Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.

Advancing and Leading the Profession
Patricia Dykes, RN, DNSc, FAAN, FACMI, senior nurse scientist and Haley Nurse Scholar, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston


As a nurse scientist, Dykes strives to improve patient care by making it easier for nurses and other team members to provide evidenced-based care. A leading nurse researcher in the areas of fall prevention and health information technology, Dykes influences nursing practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and throughout the nursing profession.

She is part of a select group of nurses inducted in both the American Academy of Nursing and the Academy College of Medical Informatics, and her research has been widely published in nursing and interdisciplinary journals. Dykes is one of only a few nurses with an appointment at the prestigious Harvard Medical School.
For nurses interested in building research programs, Dykes recommends finding mentors willing to guide them through the process.

“All of my most worthy accomplishments were cultivated by my mentors. Continue your education so that you have the foundation you need to conduct rigorous research,” she said. “Remember that no matter how much education and experience that you have, you still need to partner with nurses, other providers and patients to ensure that the interventions that you wish to study will fit with the workflow and will be adopted, so that they can ultimately improve patient care.”

Home, Community and Ambulatory Care
Peter Dennehy, RN, Department of Public Health San Francisco, Health at Home program


Dennehy is known by his colleagues for his dedication to patients — many of whom are among the poorest and most medically complex in San Francisco. He visits indigent patients in their homes or shelters and oversees their healthcare.

Physicians and other providers at an HIV unit in San Francisco said Dennehy has the special ability to reach seemingly unreachable patients, and often turns their lives around.

A colleague who nominated Dennehy wrote of a patient with AIDS, lymphoma, severe mental illness and substance abuse issues who distrusted the medical establishment. Dennehy was able to create an alliance with the patient and ultimately convinced the man to comply with treatment.

Dennehy chairs an HIV nursing network, helping to train nurses and patients in HIV care. As a representative of the public health department, he attends monthly meetings with San Francisco HIV providers to keep them apprised of what’s new and relevant in patient care. He helps improve staff morale as a member of the department’s Feel Good committee.

Dennehy said when his patients thrive, he thrives.

“A lot of the people I see have lost a lot of relationships and support from family because of addiction, mental health [issues] or lifestyle,” he said. “It is our job to make sure these people get access to the same healthcare that [we have] by being nonjudgmental and supportive. These people rely on us to advocate for them. I have very supportive peers, and we work as a team with all disciplines. I feel I am part of something bigger.”

Clinical Care Inpatient
Melissa Browning, RN, DNP, APRN, CCNS, critical care clinical nurse specialist, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago


Browning embraces change to improve patient care.

“When people challenge you with the many reasons why something won’t work, give them the many reasons why you think it will work,” she said. “Remind your team that change isn’t easy, but the rewards can be limitless for not only our patients but for ourselves.”

Some of the change initiatives Browning has been involved with include forming a hospital-wide, multidisciplinary hypoglycemia task force and leading the revision of the intensive insulin protocol for the adult critical care department.

An advocate who promotes collaboration and communication among all team members, Browning voluntarily took on the role as a “crew resource management facilitator.” When she noticed significant moral distress among staff caring for patients with lengthy stays, she not only conducted interdisciplinary plan of care rounds for patients who stayed longer than than 14 days, but went one step further by measuring the intervention for scholarly research. She surveyed the staff in the surgical ICU before and after implementation of plan of care rounds. After the intervention, SICU staff reported finding the work environment was healthier and moral distress had decreased. Browning shared those results, presenting the study to the Greater Chicago Area chapter of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the AACN national conference.

“I want our team to have every tool possible, so that we can achieve that goal,” she said of her inspiration to provide high quality patient care and to support and empower the nursing staff.

Education and Mentorship
Elaine L. Smith, RN, EdD, MSN, ANEF, NEA-BC, vice president, system nursing education, Institute for Nursing, North Shore LIJ Health System, New Hyde Park, N.Y.


Smith said she has known she wanted to be a nurse since age 17. After she achieved that goal, education quickly became her focus.

“I really believe that in order to deliver high quality care, in a safe environment, we need highly educated nurses,” Smith said. “That has really been my impetus for ensuring that I’m able to develop, implement and evaluate programs that help nurses obtain and develop their clinical, personal and critical thinking skill sets.”

Smith has held a variety of education and leadership roles throughout the LIJ Health System, serving as a resource, colleague and mentor to countless nurses and other clinicians. Among her many accomplishments: starting the system-wide perioperative fellowship program for new hires; establishing a nursing leadership academy to meet the needs of emerging nurse leaders, nurse managers and nurse executives transitioning into new roles; and developing a high-fidelity simulation on-boarding program for RNs, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. She also works to support nurses on their paths from RN to BSN and encourages nurses to never stop learning.

“One of the things I feel strongly about is there is no place in nursing for mediocrity,” Smith said. “Our patients deserve better.”

Patient and Staff Management
Michele Zucconi, RN, MSN, CCRN, administrative director, Heart and Vascular Care Center, SJ Healthcare Regional Medical Center, Vineland, N.J


Zucconi inspires a commitment to excellence that recently led her unit to earn the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ Beacon Award for Excellence for the third consecutive year.

Among her many attributes, Zucconi has a reputation for demonstrating an exceptional commitment to improving patient care. She recently served as the co-investigator of an original nursing research study that looked into the impact of canine-assisted ambulation on hospitalized heart failure patients. Patients participating in the study not only showed a significant decrease in their refusal of ambulation, but they also ambulated a distance twice that of patients who walked with an aide alone. They also were discharged a full day sooner than the average heart failure patient at SJ Healthcare. This research has garnered professional recognition locally and nationally, including publication in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

“I am fortunate to be part of a Magnet-designated health system that [prides itself on] exceptional patient outcomes and staff satisfaction. As a leader, the collaboration and support from my colleagues and staff drive me to do what I do. I use the enthusiasm and engagement of my team as the catalyst to continue to make innovative changes in my unit that benefit not only the patients, but the staff as well,” Zucconi said.
She stresses that nurses should strive to be bold and engaged leaders.

“Listen; really listen to your colleagues, staff and your leadership team. They all have something of value to say,” she said. “Most of all, remember that as healthcare leaders we are about patient advocacy. No challenge is too big and anything is possible when it comes to improving patient care or advocating for nurses at any level.”

Volunteerism and Service
Jonas Nguh, RN, PhD, MSN, MHSA, past director of nursing at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C.


Nguh said these words from Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, resonate with him: “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Nguh takes his purpose to heart and has organized and spearheaded several mission trips in the U.S. and to developing nations. In response to the earthquake in Haiti, he organized a group of 50 nurses to volunteer to care for victims. Nguh often spends his summer vacations in remote area of the U.S., such as Alaska, where he serves indigenous people with limited care access. He oversees faith-based organizations’ trips to East Africa, providing food, clean drinking water and other basic health needs to people suffering from the effects of famine and civil war.

In 2009, Nguh spearheaded an effort to raise more than 1.2 million vaccine doses for children in Kenya, South Africa and Sudan for the prevention of measles, mumps and rubella.

Nguh, who has witnessed the disenfranchisement experienced by minority women, and has made it a point to advocate for women. In 2005, he founded Community Leadership Inc, a business that promotes international networking among women.
When asked what drives him, Nguh again refers to others’ words of wisdom.

“I love the message of Mother Teresa, who said: ‘Some people feel that what they are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. No one can do great things, only small things with great love.’”


Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.Write to editor@Nurse.com or post a comment below.