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Nurse.com announces Mountain West GEM Awards finalists

Monday August 5, 2013
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Advancing and Leading the Profession

Deborah A. Burton, RN, PhD, CNAA
Vice president and CNO, Providence Health & Services, Renton, Wash.


One of Burton’s accomplishments is her superior ability to bring people together to improve quality of care. She has established a culture of excellence by breaking down traditional barriers that affect nursing. Burton established systems and structures to ensure that nurses practice at the top of their licenses and launched degree-completion and clinical-leadership development programs. She also created a clinical-practice model within a single electronic health record system, so patient care is coordinated and team-based. Burton led an initiative to ensure all facility nurse managers have a BSN to maintain their positions and organized the design of an RN-to-BSN program through the University of Great Falls in Montana. Through her leadership role in regulatory affairs with the Army Nurse Corps, Burton has been deployed by the Pentagon to countries such as Oman and Ethiopia to develop their nurse workforce.

Gail Hock, RN, MS, PHCNS-c
Program manager, community partnerships and retired clinical assistant professor, Arizona State University College of Nursing, Phoenix, The Arizona Partnership for Immunization, Phoenix


A voice for the vulnerable and underserved in the community and an outstanding role model for nurses and students, Hock is a faculty member in the RN-to-BSN program. She teaches best practices in community health nursing and ensures that students have excellent clinical experiences. As a certified public health clinical nurse specialist, she has championed immunization. She is a reliable consultant and resource for best practices in immunization and how to plan, organize and implement vaccination clinics in the field. Hock provided consultation, leadership and organizational skills to students launching a vaccination campaign on the university’s downtown campus. The program was expanded to all four campuses the next year. Hock is one of three nurses in Arizona who have earned national board certification as a public health clinical nurse specialist. She has been selected as Preceptor of the Year at the university and recognized twice with the Arizona Big Shot award.

Elizabeth M. Maish, RN, MSN, CPHQ, EDAC
Vice president and CNO, Tucson (Ariz.) Medical Center


Maish’s vision is to create an environment of transparency focused on the safety of patients. She is responsible for the strategic planning and daily operations of all nursing departments and 1,300 RNs. Co-workers say Maish – a proponent of shared governance models – is highly regarded as a nurse leader in the community and is frequently sought by other hospitals and colleagues to collaborate on patient safety issues and innovative practices. She is considered an expert on patient safety, giving presentations throughout the U.S. Maish is passionate and proactive in developing leadership abilities in others and is a proponent of advanced and continuing education, certification and succession planning. She introduced a ranking assessment among nursing leaders to identify talent and develop a plan to help staff grow personally and professionally. Her goals are to instill confidence in nurses, get them involved in practice and teach them how to appropriately assert themselves.

Anne M. McNamara, RN, PhD
Dean and professor of nursing, College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix


McNamara is committed to helping others achieve their full potential and unstoppable in her quest to lead the nursing profession. As dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, she supervises 69 faculty and staff, guides more than 7,000 students and oversees clinical partnerships with hundreds of agencies and business alliances. Community service is a cornerstone of McNamara’s life. She organizes student mission trips to impoverished villages in Latin America and arranged a student exchange program with American and Chinese nursing students. Her dedication to student success is reflected in the school’s 95.79% and 97% pass rates on the 2011 and 2012 NCLEX tests. She has helped the American Nurses Association guide nursing’s future by serving in various association roles for three decades. She also continues to mentor and serve students, colleagues, patients and families.

Clincial Nursing, Inpatient

Sharon Hoffner, RNC
Registered nurse, Flagstaff (Ariz.) Medical Center


Parents in the special care nursery frequently recognize Hoffner for giving superlative care. In addition to being a staff nurse, she has embraced a new role as customer experience officer, which blends customer service, LEAN training and peer support. In this role, Hoffner assists small groups of employees by conveying information from a senior management team to the frontline and vice versa. To date, she has implemented changes that have improved customer service, such as having hooks installed at bedsides so visitors have a place for their purses, reducing unit noise by acquiring a quieter ice machine and finding a suitable jug for mixing custom formulas. Hoffner also teaches parents infant CPR, mentors new employees and students and advocates for families. Colleagues call Hoffner the ultimate professional who welcomes personal growth and helps foster growth in those around her.

Jessica Morris, RN, BSN, CWOCN
Staff nurse, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Phoenix


After moving up through various roles in her facility, co-workers point to Morris as an example of the organization’s values — to inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care through integrated clinical practice, education and research. She often is called upon as a resource nurse, particularly for wound and ostomy care in the inpatient and outpatient settings. She also is relief team leader, responsible for up to 15 staff members and facilitating seamless patient flow to and from the 36-bed med/surg unit. Morris also serves as adjunct faculty for the Arizona State University nursing program, with clinical oversight of up to 10 students each day. Co-workers trust her problem-solving skills and judgment in times of crisis and see her as willing to help troubleshoot situations. She is a team player who sought out wound, ostomy and continence certification to perfect her skills.

Todd Vonbergen, RN, CCRN
Staff nurse, Salem (Ore.) Health


Those who have been mentored by Vonbergen go on to become the best in the ICU and CVICU because of his priceless guidance and knowledge. Vonbergen’s immense clinical knowledge, high standards and dedication to providing quality care have inspired countless ICU and CVICU nurses to provide quality care. He works as a staff, charge and resource RN in the facility’s CVICU and ICU units. Among his tasks are coordinating care among care team members, mentoring new staff and acting as the unit rapid response RN team member. Colleagues appreciate that he provides continuing education courses to those receiving inservice training for the ICU and serves as a preceptor at the bedside. He goes to great lengths to explain procedures to families. He is not only a nurse for the patient, but also a listener, caretaker and a great comfort to those around the bedside.

Veronica York, RN, BSN, CPN
Registered nurse, Tucson (Ariz.) Medical Center

As a seasoned pediatric nurse, York’s co-workers say they admire the importance she places on forming relationships with patients and their families. York is a staff nurse with charge nurse experience on a 44-bed acute pediatric unit. Colleagues comment on her strength in providing optimal care while being committed to the growth of others and the organization as a whole. As a strong critical thinker, she has good common sense and problem-solve skills. She educates patients, families, student nurses and resident physicians. York says she likes the challenges of precepting students and new graduate RNs. She serves on the nurse peer-review committee and volunteers for Shoot for Smiles, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Children’s Miracle Network.

Education and Mentorship

Debbie Mary Barrett-Bryson, RNC-OB, MSN, BSN, MHA, CCE, SME
Senior case manager, OptumHealth, Goodyear, Ariz.


On a constant quest for education, knowledge and best practice, Barrett-Bryson exemplifies all the traits used when describing an excellent mentor and RN. As adjunct instructor for LPNs pursuing an RN license at two local colleges and a lead case manager and subject matter expert for her team of 21 nurses, Barrett-Bryson is considered an expert in maternal-child nursing who is committed to the education of nursing staff. She has expanded her role as senior case manager to focus on quality improvements within her team and division. Her innovative thinking has resulted in an increased focus on improvements such as contributing to the development of the team to adapt to change and innovation. Her knowledge led to involvement with the U.S. delegation to China to help address infant mortality and maternal morbidity. She also works with pregnant refugees from other countries who settle in Phoenix.

Mary Blessing, RN, MSN
Area director, nursing education and research, University of New Mexico Hospitals, Albuquerque


Blessing has been instrumental in guiding and molding new nurses into skilled and compassionate staff. She is area director for education and research at a 450-bed academic medical center and oversees nursing research, inpatient and clinical education and the nurse residency program, which admitted 75 new graduates this year. She is key to her facility’s nursing research initiatives and well-developed residency program, which involves educational programing. She is instrumental in best practice at the bedside based on her supervisory role with nurse residents and collaborates with colleagues to ensure consistency in educational initiatives. She also supports bringing research to the bedside. Under her leadership, in 2012 a new program enabled staff RNs to spend four hours each week on research initiatives. Blessing also is exposing more high school students to healthcare careers.


Mary L. King, RN, MSN, CNRN, CCRN, ACNS-BC
Clinical nurse specialist, St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center, Phoenix


King is an educator who doesn’t sit behind closed doors. She teaches at the bedside alongside staff, patients and families. A clinical nurse specialist for a 32-bed neurosurgical ICU, she is constantly educating and encouraging others to pursue learning opportunities through CEUs, certification, research projects and poster boards. She dedicates countless hours to RNs and PCTs so their educational needs are covered and meets with all new nurses every two weeks to ensure orientation is going smoothly. She recently played a substantial role in implementing the electronic medical record system Cerner on her unit and facilitywide by educating staff and physicians. Nurses say she elevates the level of patient care and knows how to handle a problem before it becomes an emergency. She regularly presents to organizations, such as the World Federation of Neuroscience Nursing this year in Japan.

Janice Lee Priest, RN, BSN, MS, CNE
Assistant professor, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Phoenix


No faculty member cares more about her students than Priest does, according to colleagues. As full-time faculty and course coordinator for critical care nursing in a BSN pre-licensure program, Priest is commended and applauded regularly by students for her teaching style. With her team of adjuncts, she treats each student as a whole person, caring for them in the clinical setting, classroom and as human beings. Priest provides experiences that bring out the best in students. She created and developed a critical care lab, integrates realistic patient scenarios into her courses and provides meaningful community experiences for students, such as Life Flight. Her students’ mean HESI scores on their final exams have increased to the mid-900s. Priest shows that she cares that her students learn and succeed in her courses and in their professional lives.

Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Patricia Anderson, RN, WOCN
Wound care nurse, University of Arizona Healthcare, Tucson


Anderson has changed the lives of many patients by being available for them and making sure they get the correct care for their wound care needs, co-workers say. She used her own money and time to learn about wound care in Atlanta for three months and in the walk-in clinic now serves patients who otherwise would have had to be referred to other hospitals. She also works with the hospital’s plastic surgeon, coordinating his clinic and OR schedules. Her skills have enabled patients to receive direct care and gives them someone to turn to when they are home alone with a wound issue. Anderson continually makes a noticeable impact on patients’ wound healing. She has been known to go to patients’ homes on her own time to check their wounds and make sure they have required supplies. She also serves as a resource for other staff, including physicians.

Rogelio Maldonado, RN, BS-Business Management
Assistant nurse manager, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle


Maldonado has been instrumental in establishing the medical home model at the adult medicine clinic where he is assistant nurse manager. His leadership and skill are reflected in the success of this new model. He cares for a diverse patient population including the homeless, non-English speaking poor, people with HIV/AIDS, residents of skilled nursing facilities and incarcerated individuals. He has an ability to juggle numerous priorities throughout the day. Maldonado can be starting an IV on an acutely ill patient while handling multiple requests from providers, illustrating his skill for delegation. He has a can-do attitude and is the first to step forward and pilot a process. His actions serve as a role model in leadership for the other assistant nurse managers in the ambulatory care division, and he is sought out by peers for his clinical expertise. Nursing students rave about their learning experiences under his supervision.

Allison Osborne, RN, BSN, OCN
Oncology nurse case manager, Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley Medical Center


The ability to manage multiple roles without becoming flustered makes Osborne an exceptional nurse, colleagues say. As a nurse case manager, she supports five physicians and one DNP, providing infusions, patient assessments and toxicity checks as well as patient navigation. She travels to outreach sites to coordinate patient care across multiple care specialties and provides chemotherapy, infusions, medication education and end-of-life care for patients and families. Osborne’s ability to stay calm during emergencies helps her provide focused care to every patient she assists. She never loses the patient-centered focus, even on the most hectic of days, and is one of the most adamant patient-care advocates coworkers have seen. Coworkers also appreciate her constant support. She is on several process-improvement committees and is a contributor to the tumor board. Osborne exemplifies the highest level of oncology nursing.

Ava Williams-Cornelius, RN
Avondale (Ariz.) School District and Chamberlain College Preceptor Program


Williams-Cornelius assists with fostering academic success in an elementary school by providing health support to 1,050 children, many with low socioeconomic hardships. She respects each child and works to care for and assist each one physically, emotionally, academically and socially. Williams-Cornelius works with programs for health promotion, such as the fluoride program, and has a major role in outreach programs to support parents’ requests for clothing assistance. She also provides health promotion for this high-risk population and collaborates with the rest of her team to provide care for their psychological needs. In addition, Williams-Cornelius is a beloved preceptor for nursing students in their community health rotation. She arranges an opportunity for each student to work with a classroom to teach a health promotion topic. The students she precepts praise her for her skills in guiding them and serving as a role model in leadership, decision-making and management.

Patient and Staff Management

Meredith Roe, RN, BSN
Surgical charge nurse for general, gynecology and ear, nose and throat services, Swedish Medical Center (Ballard Campus), Seattle


Strong patient advocacy, fairness, kindness, efficiency and professionalism are words colleagues use to describe Roe, who ensures the OR is organized so patients and surgeons have everything they need. Roe is the key contact for RN students on their surgery rotation and for nurses participating in the OR consortium. She is willing to champion new projects, help with planning changes and bring in practices that will serve both the staff and patient population. Roe has accomplished many measurable actions, including working with the rest of the OR team to streamline certain total hip cases so they take less than one hour of surgical time. She willingly learns new methods of accomplishing tasks and actively participates in teaching co-workers these methods. Roe brings quality not only to the patient experience, but also to the reputation of the hospital.

Stephanie I. M. Strickland, RN, BSN, MS, CNRN
Manager neuro ICU, St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Center, Phoenix


Strickland is highly respected among interdisciplinary colleagues for her ability to always place the patient front and center in any decision and the ability to be tough on issues, yet easygoing with people. She is nurse manager for a 32-bed neuro ICU with full responsibility for the unit and 110 staff members. Strickland has made a significant difference in how the organization thinks about issues of moral distress in patients, families and staff. She has implemented initiatives, such as a No-Pass Zone climate, in which all staff are responsible for answering patient call lights, alarms or providing assistance regardless of patient assignments. This initiative has increased patient and nurse satisfaction. She also is implementing Hot Pockets, a means of patient-family education that is carried throughout the hospital. This process already has received positive feedback from patients and families. The staff’s teamwork, collegiality and drive to provide excellent care reflect Strickland’s lead-by-example style.

Betty A. Venth, RN, MSN, BSN, BC
Flight commander, family health, U.S. Air Force, 56 Medical Group, Luke (Ariz.) Air Force Base


The medical operations squadron commander has rated Venth the most effective flight commander within her clinic and other clinics in the system. She leads a team of 69 staff in a clinic that manages more than 53,000 appointments annually. Her supervisor frequently chooses her to fill in as chief nurse. Venth has displayed a diverse set of skills in management, patient care and professional duties. She developed a management tool that tracks providers’ weekly appointments, ensuring appointment standards and provider availability meet patient demand. Venth’s ability to multi-task and manage frequent changes is noteworthy. She has completed two process-improvement studies for the overburdened clinics, resulting in team continuity and soaring patient satisfaction. She promotes interdisciplinary, collegial working relationships throughout the entire medical group, such as working with pediatric physicians to provide training to physician assistants in the family health clinic.

Beth Walker, RN, MSN
Case manager, Banner Heart Hospital, Mesa, Ariz.


As a clinical manager in inpatient oncology, personal and professional challenges have molded Walker and guided her development as an effective interpersonal communicator. She is recognized within the hospital, community and nation as a leader in interdisciplinary teamwork who respects the rights of patients to make their own decisions. She recently partnered with a determined physician to adjust a plan of care from aggressive to palliative. Patients, families and peers continually comment on her warmth, care and compassion. Walker advocates for patients when they are undergoing treatments. She goes the extra mile, such as initiating a special high tea and establishing ballroom dancing for outpatient oncology patients. Active in national and local chapters of radiology nursing and the Oncology Nurses Association, she speaks, presents posters and works collaboratively with peers to successfully present day-long interdisciplinary workshops on interventional oncology.

Volunteerism and Service

Kimberly Reiners, RN, BSN, CPN, AE-C
Pediatric asthma educator, Banner Health’s Cardon Children’s Medical Center, Mesa, Ariz.


Reiners has a big heart for children, which is evident in her passion to help prevent deaths from asthma. Through her education efforts, asthma rates have improved within two years at her facility. Reiners created the first children’s hospital pediatric asthma support group in Arizona. She is Arizona director of Asthma Athletics, which provides asthma education by offering free swim lessons for children with asthma, and she became the lead nurse with Camp Soaring Eagle to help create the medical protocols that made asthma camps available to this population. She attends every asthma camp as lead nurse and finds volunteers for the Wesley Clinic, which offers asthma education to the uninsured population of Phoenix. Through the American Lung Association, Reiners helps raise funds so children can attend Camp Not A Wheeze. Her ongoing contributions positively impact hundreds of children.

Jill Schneden, RN, BSN, BS
Clinical documentation specialist, University of Arizona Medical Center, Tucson


Under Schneden’s watchful eye, the facility’s documentation process has improved significantly. Colleagues say the tireless and unwavering way she gives, supports and helps others is valued. She is a board member of the local Lupus Foundation and involved year-round with fundraising events. She also volunteers with the Wounded Warriors Project, Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Arthritis Foundation and the Candle Lighter Project, a pediatric support network for families dealing with cancer. She supports reading for local youth by volunteering with the Festival of Books. With a natural giving spirit, she writes individual notes and cards to co-workers. During Doctors Day she wrote an individualized note to each physician with whom she works. She was named one the Fabulous 50 Nurses in Tucson for her outstanding clinical and community service. Team members say Schneden makes a measurable difference in the lives of every person she touches.

Linda Louise Tschida, RN, BS
Staff nurse family medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland


After finishing work as a staff nurse on an acute medical care unit, Tschida performs community service accompanied by one or more of her dogs. Her two labradoodles are animal assisted-therapy dogs, which Tschida uses in canine crisis response activities, such as serving with the sheriff’s department chaplain program and visiting jail inmates weekly. She and the dogs also have worked with Providence Healthcare at Camp Erin, a summer camp for young people who have lost a loved one. Through the animals, Tschida is able to provide comfort to the campers. She also donated two puppies to be trained by the Autism Service Dogs of America to become service dogs for autistic children. Tschida volunteers at a foot clinic and often provides other nursing services, such as blood pressure checks.

Andrea Warwick, RN, MSN/ED, PCCN
RN clinical education specialist, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix


Warwick has found her niche working on the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, a group of citizen responders who are deployed to disaster sites worldwide on two hours notice. Warwick performs this role in addition to her work as a clinical education specialist for the telemetry/cardiac progressive care units on which she provides bedside staff education, facilitates new RN orientation and develops education plans and curriculum for new and experienced nurses. Warwick’s involvement with DMAT includes serving as the medical treatment officer on one of 15 federal mass vaccination teams. She is on call 24/7 for the national government and recently was deployed to Long Island, N.Y., to convert a community college into an emergency medical clinic and shelter after Superstorm Sandy. Warwick is a lifelong learner who is always up for a challenge and seeks out learning opportunities so she can be ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

For photos of the Mountain West finalists, visit www.Nurse.com/Gallery/MTW-GEM-2013.


Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer. Send comments to editorWest@nurse.com