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Meet the 2013 Florida winners of the Nurse.com Nursing Excellence Awards program

Monday September 16, 2013
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Each year, a national search is held to find the most exceptional nurses in the U.S. Nurses from across the country are nominated by colleagues. This year, Nurse.com continues its tradition of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of these dedicated nurses at regional awards galas held throughout the U.S., the culmination of which results in the naming of six special nurses as 2013 Nursing Excellence GEM awardees. In each region, five remarkable nurses in six specialized categories were chosen as finalists from the hundreds of nominations received. Six regional winners were selected from this group.

“Our program has a sparkly new look and a shiny new name,“ said Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN, Nurse.com’s senior vice president and CNE. “The GEM Awards are our way of publicly recognizing excellence in nursing by awarding nurses who were nominated, selected and celebrated by other nurses, and who represent the best of the best in our profession. It is our privilege to honor them.”


Rosa Maria Gonzalez-Guarda, RN
Advancing and Leading the Profession

Rosa Maria Gonzalez-Guarda
RN, PhD, MPH, CPH
Assistant Professor, Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Faculty Scholar, University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, Coral Gables, Fla.

A youth group trip to the Dominican Republic when she was 15 inspired Gonzalez-Guarda to become a nurse. During that experience, Gonzalez-Guarda saw firsthand the valuable role public health nurses play in improving the healthcare of communities worldwide.

Many diseases, Gonzalez-Guarda quickly learned, are preventable if people have access to more healthcare resources and a better quality of life. This is true not just in poorer countries but the U.S. as well, she said. “We’re not going to decrease the amount of people who have diseases by just providing care in the hospital,” she said. “In order to really change the profiles of health in our country the most important thing we need to do is improve the conditions in which people live, play, work and learn.”

As Gonzalez-Guarda became more interested in the profession, she also observed the importance of research and evidence-based practice in reducing health disparities. Early in her nursing education, she participated in a research project focused on health disparities among cancer patients in the Hispanic community of Washington D.C. While pursuing her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University, she also used research to help develop a prevention program to address a syphilis outbreak in Baltimore. “What led me to education was really research,” Gonzalez-Guarda said. “I like that I’m able to have an influence on different things. I’m able to conduct research that impacts policy and practice and improves the health of communities.”

In addition to serving on the steering committee of the Florida Action Coalition, Gonzalez-Guarda chairs the University of Miami’s School of Nursing and Health Studies Public Health Program Planning Committee. The committee designed the school’s recently launched bachelor of science in public health degree.

Gonzalez-Guarda said she is humbled by receiving the GEM award. Whether at the bedside making sure patients receive top-notch care or in the classroom encouraging students, all nurses should advance and lead in some way to improve healthcare for everyone in their communities, she said.

“It’s something that should be expected in our profession,” Gonzalez-Guarda said. “I try to teach students they all have the potential to be leaders. In our society they often get messages that nurses are everything but leaders so it’s really important to counteract those messages.”


Guillermo Marcel Leon, RN
Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Guillermo Marcel Leon
RN, MHA
Registered Nurse, Mental Health,
Orlando VA Medical Center,
Orlando, Fla.

Throughout his childhood in Puerto Rico, Leon knew he wanted to work with veterans someday. “My grandfather was a Vietnam veteran,” Leon said. “He always told me stories about how good the VA system in Puerto Rico was to him. They helped him a lot when he came back from Vietnam.”

A nurse in the Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program at the Orlando VA Medical Center, Leon cares for veterans dealing with mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse and other issues. He monitors medications for between 50 and 60 patients, working to ensure they are taking the correct doses and helping them identify side effects. He also uses evidence-based interventions related to medication management. Some of his patients are taking eight or more medications a day, while others have impaired vision or conditions that affect their cognitive function. The highlight of his job is seeing veterans recover and return to independent living, he said. “I enjoy what I do,” Leon said. “It’s very fulfilling to help [veterans] achieve their goals.”

Leon started his career at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, NY. He was immediately inspired by the nurse who invited him to work there as part of a program to recruit new RN grads from Puerto Rico, India and the Philippines. That program gave him opportunities he might not otherwise have had, Leon said. “I think the most amazing part of my career is I have been guided by so many great people,” he said.

What Leon loves most about nursing is the interaction with people and the personal satisfaction he receives from helping others. “Nursing is not a job, it’s more of a vocation,” Leon said. “You have to be dedicated. You have to feel what you’re doing. You have to be guided by your instincts.”

Described by colleagues as a “team player,” Leon was nominated by a night nursing supervisor who was impressed by his dedication, compassion and communication skills that benefit not only veterans but also their families. Receiving his award came as a surprise, Leon said. “Sometimes you think people don’t see the work that you’re doing,” Leon said. “You think you’re just working and nobody’s watching. This made me feel like she noticed how hard I work and how dedicated I am to the veterans. I really want them to get better and succeed in the program.”


Christine L. Williams, RN
Education and Mentorship

Christine L. Williams
RN, DNSc, PMHCNS-BC
Director, PhD in Nursing Program, Ronald and
Elizabeth Blake Distinguished Professor in Nursing, Florida Atlantic University-Christine E. Lynn College
of Nursing, Boca Raton, Fla.

Williams knows firsthand the difference having a good mentor can make in a nurse’s career path. She benefited from having great mentors while pursuing her master’s degree at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. But when she had to leave the state for family reasons and attend Boston College in Massachusetts for her doctorate degree, she lost those valuable contacts and wasn’t able to establish new mentor relationships. She now works to provide novice nurses and researchers with the mentoring support she would like to have had early in her career. “It was a lot of lost opportunities as a result and a lot of struggles that could have been circumvented had I had a mentor,” Williams said. “I want to help people maximize their career opportunities and be successful as early as possible in their careers.”

Williams, who began her career in 1973 as a psychiatric mental health nurse, taught at Saint Anselm College in Manchester for nearly 20 years before coming to Florida Atlantic University. Described by her teaching assistant as an outstanding leader and nurse scholar, Williams makes herself available to her pupils, allowing them to call or text her for professional advice. “When I take someone on to mentor, I make them a priority,” Williams said. “I get back to them right away and we have a strong connection within professional boundaries. If you’re making decisions, you have to have someone who’s accessible.”

Having done extensive research on the mental health of Alzheimer’s disease patients and improving the care of vulnerable older adults, Williams was elected fellow of the Gerontological Society of America in 2004 and has written the book “Therapeutic Interaction in Nursing.”

“I’m a researcher as well as a teacher,” Williams said. “I really enjoy both roles. The researcher role is very exciting. You’re discovering something new.”

A 2007 recipient of a mentor award from the Beta Tau chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, Williams said she was touched to receive this most recent award for education and mentorship. “It helps validate all the time and effort and investment in my students over the years,” Williams said. “There aren’t as many awards for mentorship as there are for other things. I feel that this is something I’ve made a priority in my life.”


Henry Guzman, RN
Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Henry Guzman
RN
Manager, Employee Health Management,
Baptist Health South Florida,
Miami, Fla.

A physical fitness enthusiast and advocate of disease prevention, Guzman manages programs aimed at helping Baptist employees lead healthier lifestyles and reduce their risks for certain illnesses. Guzman heads a team that includes nurses, a dietician and an exercise physiologist who work with specific employees for one year in an in-depth capacity as part of a program called “My Unlimited Potential.” To qualify for the program, employees must have at least two identifiable risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Participants receive customized assessments, fresh produce, grocery store tours, relaxation classes and other benefits, Guzman said. The average weight loss per employee is about 15 pounds in the first 12 weeks. “We’ve seen people come off medications,” Guzman said. “We’ve seen people come out of diabetic range.”

Employees in the program also receive home visits from health experts to help children and spouses understand the importance of healthy lifestyles for their loved ones and encourage them to offer support during the process. “We meet with the family and try to explain what mom or dad are trying to do,” Guzman said. “It also trickles to their co-workers. It’s really a grassroots effort to try to change unhealthy behavior.”

A former exercise physiologist, Guzman became a nurse about 12 years ago. The father of a 17-year-old daughter, he is proud to work for a progressive health system and is amazed by the difference wellness programs have made in Baptist employees’ lives. “Once they start eating better and exercising, they can see what the possibilities are,” Guzman said. “Once you start to feel better you feel more empowered and that can change so many things in your life.”

Guzman said he is honored a co-worker nominated him for the GEM award and was elated when he won. He hopes the award can bring attention to the need for more wellness programs in workplaces. Guzman’s ultimate dream is to help transform the way healthcare is delivered in the U.S. and increase the focus on prevention. “Hopefully, people can see how much employees are benefiting from this type of healthcare delivery,” Guzman said. “Eighty percent of the diseases in this country are completely preventable. Everything from diabetes to high blood pressure to heart disease should be completely eradicated by now.”


Megan Calkins, RN
Patient and Staff Management

Megan Calkins
RN, BSN, CNML
Director, Patient Care,
Martin Health System
Stuart, Fla.

A little more than a year into her role as a director of patient care for the med/surg services line, Calkins did not expect to receive recognition for her management skills so soon. “I was so excited and really just in awe,” Calkins said of receiving her award in patient and staff management. “This is the first award that I’ve ever won, so I was just honored to have been selected.”

Calkins heads four inpatient units and a dialysis unit. Described as an energetic leader who never tires of challenges, she is known for motivating her staff and providing positive feedback. Several popular initiatives have been implemented under Calkins’ leadership, including the Bedside Information Card created by her Care Innovation Transformation team.

Through the project, patients receive booklets providing information about the discharge process, dietary system, the healthcare team and other hospital information. Another initiative is the Workstation on Wheels drawer, which helps keep supplies in nurses’ computer carts better organized and easily accessible.
Since taking on her new position, Calkins has focused on staff satisfaction and worked to create a series of action plans that include more rounding on the units, individual feedback sessions and increased use of huddle boards to relay information. “It was quite a challenge in the beginning,” Calkins said. “I worked extremely hard to try to turn things around in the department I’m accountable for and make it a better working environment for the staff and improve the quality of care for the patients.”

Calkins, who has a background in human services, was a stay-at-home mom when she decided to return to college. While in school, she was inspired to try nursing. “I had a great relationship with my biology instructor who opened the door for me for nursing,” Calkins said. “I just absolutely loved it.”

Calkins started her career working in surgical trauma at Albany Medical Center in upstate New York. After three years, she transferred to the ED. Although the bulk of her experience has been geared toward trauma and ED nursing, Calkins enjoys managing multiple units and encouraging her staff. “The biggest thing for me is staying positive and being driven and dedicated to what I’m doing,” Calkins said. “I really believe in my organization. I really feel supported by my leadership. It makes me feel confident. I want my staff to feel like they’re supported by me.”


Doris Noel Ugarriza, RN
Volunteerism and Service

Doris Noel Ugarriza
ARNP, PhD, PMHCNS-BC
Professor and Vice Dean,
University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, Coral Gables, Fla.

Ugarriza has devoted a significant portion of her career to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of postpartum depression while increasing awareness of the condition. She has influenced the way postpartum depression is viewed by the healthcare community and conducted research that helped pass the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act of 2009 in Congress. The legislation supports research into the causes and treatment of postpartum depression while providing support services and education for patients and their families. Ugarriza, who was invited to speak on the topic by the Congressional Black Caucus, also is responsible for teaching nursing students, colleagues and the community how to recognize and address postpartum depression.

Ugarriza’s interest in postpartum depression developed in the late 1970s after a cousin became depressed following the birth of her third child. At the time, Ugarriza was working as a psychiatric mental health nurse at Jackson Memorial Medical Center in Miami where she noticed new mothers being admitted with symptoms of depression. “I was just wondering why that happened,” she said. “I had a lot of empathy for mothers who weren’t enjoying their motherhoods.”

Ugarriza particularly wanted to look at postpartum depression from a cultural perspective. In modern U.S. society, many households are no longer multigenerational and family members or neighbors are not as available to support new moms as in past generations, she said. Social isolation can be a major contributor to postpartum depression, Ugarriza said.

“It’s a lot of work raising a child,” she said. “In cultures where there are large extended families, the incidence [of postpartum depression] is way down. I always talk about the value of grandmothers and aunts. They’ll never know the important role they play in family health. We’re just starting to see how valuable the family unit is.”

When Ugarriza began researching postpartum depression, the topic still was uncharted territory. The condition was difficult to diagnose because women equated feelings of depression with being bad mothers. Ugarriza’s research and knowledge has contributed to reducing the stigma surrounding postpartum depression and encouraged more women to come forward. Receiving an award for her efforts helps to focus attention on an issue she has made her “labor of love,” she said. “It’s very gratifying to know that other people view the work as valuable,” Ugarriza said. “Nobody works in isolation. I represent a lot of people working together to bring this condition to light.”


Geneva Slupski is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email editorSouth@nurse.com.