Neonatal

Winner
Lee Lee Lee
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

Finalists
Tori Sanders

Texas Health Dallas

Tori Sanders has been a NICU nurse at Texas Health Dallas for nearly 8 years. During this time, Sanders volunteered to be the primary nurse for one baby from a set of sextuplets, who were born 13 weeks early. She took care of him every assigned shift for eight months. While the baby ultimately did not make it, Sanders still finds motivation to be a strong nurse through the relationship she formed with him. Recognizing the special situation that mothers are in when their babies are whisked away to the NICU, Sanders is developing a Parent Survival Guide for families to address this situation. She also works to mentor the transport team to be sensitive to the mothers’ emotional needs. Sanders job doesn’t stop there—she works tirelessly outside the hospital, including participating in outreach activities at community hospitals to improve neonatal care. As her unit recently recognized, Sanders demonstrates the values of respect, integrity, compassion, and excellence of a NICU nurse. —Lindsey Beran

Kristin Swanson
Baylor Medical Center of Carrollton

Growing up with foster children in her home, Kristin Swanson’s mother always said she was raising a NICU nurse. If that was her intention, she succeeded and then some. Swanson, a NICU RNC at Baylor Carrollton, said that her desire to care for people and love of babies made being a NICU nurse a no brainer. Quality care is a given for Swanson, but she has bigger goals. “My goal is to help families overcome the fear they may have for caring for their own children,” she says. “I want them to learn to love their children for who they are—health problems and all.” To reach her goals, she partners with programs such as Project Linus to provide handmade blankets to the families and makes “Bonding Bears” on her own time, so that babies are left with their mother’s scent each night. With her positive attitude and outlook, it is no wonder her colleagues say that Swanson is a “true gift” to the NICU. —Lindsey Beran

Nurse Practitioner— Acute Care

Winner
Brenda Thompson
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Finalists
Sayda Major
Parkland Health and Hospital System

After her mom was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo a major operation, Sayda Major realized that it was the nursing care that helped her mother ultimately recover. “The surgeons do the operation. But the nurses’ care—that is what helps patients get better,” she says. Major, an acute care nurse practitioner at Parkland, originally went to nursing school so she could stay close to her mother while she was sick. But she was inspired to further her education, at the prompting of her parents, and become a nurse practitioner. Major goes above and beyond. She developed a special relationship with a patient, who she would take to get her hair and nails done, because she realized that keeping the patient’s morale high was as important as her medical care. “It is not just about the medical care,” she says. “It is about the whole patient. And, I learned as much from her as she did from me.” —Lindsey Beran

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Lee Sulkin
The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano

Fresh out of college, Lee Sulkin joined the Peace Corps. Sulkin did her training in Central America and then spent the remainder of her time in Equitorial Guinea with a Community Expansion, providing basic health care to various villages. “After spending time in this capacity, I knew I had found my calling in nursing,” she says. Sulkin is now the Director of Advance Practice Nursing at the Heart Hospital Baylor—Plano. In this role, she treats very sick patients who often times do not have the best outcomes, but she manages to stay positive. Sulkin believes that advanced practice nurses bring information and clarity, provide emotional support, and act as a central figure to ensure that patients and their families are always completely aware of the plan, the prognosis, and what the next step will be. “Helping the patient and family in this way is absolutely what allows me to remain positive, regardless of the potential outcome.” —Lindsey Beran

Nurse Practitioner— Primary Care

Winner
Lori Spies
Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing

Finalists
Rebecca Cooner
Children’s Medical Center of Dallas

Some people loathe change; others merely tolerate it. Rebecca Cooner is a woman who thrives in times of it. As Advanced Practices Services Manager for Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, she has witnessed a new director, the integration of new departments, and three new team leaders. Cooner embraced this time of transition, even representing more than 280 people in her department on the hospital’s Team Leader Re-structuring Committee. Cooner has also strongly influenced her hospital’s culture. She has helped implement AIDET, a communication philosophy focused on building positive, soothing interactions, and Just Culture, an error-prevention initiative. She has also served as a personal mentor to four team leaders and one APS manager, and she hosts book club sessions on leadership. “Rebecca has that ‘Go get ’em!’ attitude and she focuses on improving the quality of care and customer service,” a fellow nurse says. “As Advanced Practices Services providers, we have a lot of trickle-down influence on the hospital as a whole.” —Kristen Taylor

Kellie L. Kahveci
Health Texas Provider NetworkBaylor, Scott & White Health

Even a brief chat with Kellie Kahveci reveals her true passion for what she does and her heart for service. At the precocious age of 2, she was inspired by a family member in nursing and decided she wanted to help people—and help she does. Kahveci wears many hats: nurse practitioner manager, professor, doctoral candidate, and most importantly, agent of change. Patients genuinely love her because she sincerely cares and will do whatever it takes to keep them healthy, which may mean visiting them in her off-time, helping create the House Calls program, and developing new ways to care for uninsured and underserved populations. The most difficult part of her job is dealing with end-of-life issues, but Kahveci also finds that the most gratifying. “It requires a lot of reflection on my part, and that’s hard, but to be able to make someone comfortable with the end of their earthly life is the most rewarding part of the job,” she says. —Kristen Taylor

Nursing Administration

Winner
Faye Collins
Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie

Finalists
Althea Denise Aubrey
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

Director of Nursing Althea Aubrey tends not only to the physical needs of her patients, but to their spiritual and emotional needs as well. In one instance, the DFW Great 100 in Nursing recipient held a birthday celebration for a patient and brought together the patient’s estranged family for the very first time, fulfilling the woman’s dying wish. Despite being in charge of 550 nurses at work, Aubrey finds time to utilize her big smile and servant-leader approach in the greater community. She works with the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses, acting as a two-year mentor for four Texas nurses who have chemical dependencies or mental illnesses. A single mother of two children, she also volunteers 20 hours per semester at her children’s school, facilitates monthly cancer group meetings, and provides flu shots at community health fairs. A fellow nurse says, “The difference between a manager and a leader is that a leader inspires, and Althea is an exceptional leader.” —Kristen Taylor

Becky McCulley
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Becky McCulley only has 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else, but somehow, she still manages the day-to-day operations of two hospitals and is the lead in planning UTSW’s new university hospital, slated to open in November. She started her career as a nurse with an associate’s degree, but returned to school after deciding she wanted to lead and inspire her colleagues. She attended UT Arlington and achieved both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In her role as COO and associate VP for neurosciences and emergency services, she makes patient experience the priority to everything she does. She has instituted countless policies to improve her hospitals, including a patient transfer hotline, a “quiet hospital” initiative, and a decentralized therapy program that puts therapists wherever patients need them most. One co-worker says, “I am continually impressed by all she does. She has transitioned from excelling at a bedside nurse to a director of nursing, and we are all proud to mirror our practice after her.” —Kristen Taylor

Gina Smock
Baylor All Saints Medical Center Fort Worth

When Gina Smock learned a patient had been discharged without access to home medications or transportation, she drove to his home to deliver his prescription. That alone makes a good health-care provider, but what she did next sets her apart as a great one. When she arrived at the man’s home, she found deplorable conditions and a patient who was unable to care for himself: he was using a bucket to relieve himself, his mattress was decayed and bare, and his food was covered in mold. Determined to help, Smock called Adult Protective Services and kept the man company until someone came to help him. As director of emergency department services, Smock has impacted policy for both her hospital and the Baylor Medical System as a whole. She is on multiple committees and task forces to impact both practice and policy, and she is the former chair for both the Staff Nurse Council and the Nurse Manager Council. “She’s just something else,” a co-worker says. “She is just so compassionate and has a huge impact on patients. She always seems to recognize the positive opportunities to any challenge.” —Kristen Taylor

Oncology

Winner
Kathy Ahne Pratt
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Finalists
Donna Blankenship
Texas Oncology

Donna Blankenship’s father died of lung cancer at the age of 16, so oncology was the last field she wanted to go into. But it seemed oncology patients followed her wherever she went, which led to her current nursing position at Texas Oncology. Blankenship’s passion for nursing is exemplified through her overwhelming concern for her patients. “She has a gift of making patients and families feel at ease by really listening and trying to understand the family dynamics,” says one of Blankenship’s co-workers. Alongside Blankenship’s steadfast dedication as a nurse, for the past 18 months, she has stayed committed to volunteering at an indigent care oncology clinic. She has been described as a strong role model and a true leader through her recruitment of physicians, medical assistants, and nurses to assist cancer patients who are unable to pay for treatment. Blankenship says she would be lost without nursing. “It’s who I am,” she says. —Hayley Votolato

LeahJosey

Leah Josey
Texas Oncology—Sammons Cancer Center at Baylor University Medical Center

Leah Josey is a person who makes herself available to those who need her. She answers emails within minutes and works such long hours—until 8 pm or later almost every day–that the cleaning crew know her by name. In her 20 years in the Bone Marrow Transplant program, her co-workers have come to see her as “a cornerstone” of their operations. As Blood and Marrow Transplant Coordinator, she helps patients and their families through the lifesaving (but difficult and occasionally frightening) treatment. In this role, she surpasses expectations—she does her job, yes, but she also comforts parents of sick children, helps patients find places to stay while in Dallas, and is known to pay out of pocket for patients’ cab fare. Josey’s nursing philosophy is a simple one. “I go by the Golden Rule,” she says. “I try to take care of people the way I would want myself or my family to be treated, even if it takes a little while past quitting time to do so.” —Kristen Taylor

Carolyn Kuberski
Texas Health Resources Dallas

Carolyn Kuberski answers her patients’ questions, intuits their unspoken fears, and comforts them when necessary. On one instance, she understood a dying patient’s family member’s underlying questions to a group of nurses (“Is she suffering?”) and was the first to speak up, offering words of reassurance as well as practicalities. “It can be hard at times when you have a really sick patient, and everything they hear is negative,” she says. “It’s important to see them as a person instead of just a cancer patient.” Aside from her duties as oncology nursing supervisor of inpatient and outpatient, Kuberski has been integral to the improvement of chemotherapy wait times, down to four hours from a previous nine; the project’s team won Health Presbyterian’s annual Operational Improvement Award for 2013. Says a co-worker, “Carolyn is the nurse that all young nurses aspire to be like; the nurse that nurse leaders wish could work 24/7; the nurse all physicians trust to care for their patients.” —Kristen Taylor

Orthopedics

Winner
Carole Inman
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano

Finalist
Lorie Luce
Baylor All Saints Medical Center

It would be understandably easy to get complacent after 15 years on the job. However for Lorie Luce, an orthopedic nurse at Baylor All Saints Medical Center, that simply isn’t an option. In fact, one co-worker calls Luce “the most dedicated person on her unit.” She is always found with a bright smile on her face and never complains, no matter how overwhelming her workload or how long her hours. She is constantly searching for new information to help her department; she mingles with other teams to learn about patient safety precautions and even prints copies to educate her unit. While raising two children and acting as a member of her Unit Based Council, she also comes to work on her days off to help improve what her unit is struggling with. Until now, her fellow nurse says, Luce hasn’t been recognized in a way that she deserves, and that’s unfortunate because “Lorie is a remarkable woman.” —Kristen Taylor

Pediatrics

Winner
Leslie Lewis
Medical City Children’s Hospital

Finalists
Joe Don Cavender
Children’s Medical Center of Dallas

Jon Don Cavender was a dialysis technician for five years before he realized he enjoyed being around the people more than the machines. “I just had a natural attraction to want to help others,” he says. Cavender is the associate chief nursing officer at Children’s Medical Center. After being a nurse for 21 years, he has met many patients that have affected him. One patient in particular, a 14-year-old-boy with sickle cell disease, motivated him to go back to school and get a master’s in nursing. “I learned so much from him, both about life and about nursing,” Cavender says. Cavender took care of the boy for five years before the boy passed away. “Helping the kids with cancer who couldn’t get better and knowing that I’ve made their lives better in the short time they had, that’s significant,” he says. “It gives me perspective on life that every interaction is valuable.” —Kristen Taylor

Natasha Marie Rivers
Children’s Medical Center at Legacy

When Natasha Rivers was a little girl, she decided she wanted to be either a nurse or a cheerleader when she grew up. When she went to school on an academic scholarship, she studied to be a vet. However, she realized she had “always wanted to care for people.” Rivers then had the opportunity to switch to nursing and graduated in December 2003 with her degree from Tarleton State University. While in nursing school, she realized pediatrics, instead of labor and delivery, was the field for her. “As a young person, seeing children’s spirit, their fight, and their willingness, drove me to pediatrics,” Rivers says. Rivers now serves as the pre-operation, post–operation lead nurse at Children’s Medical Center at Legacy. She still gets the opportunity to serve as a bedside nurse, along with her leadership responsibilities. Rivers plans on going back to school for a dual masters in nursing and business administration. —Kristen Taylor

Jessica Rivera
Children’s Medical Center of Dallas

Jessica Rivera is more than just a nurse to her patients, she is also a friend. Knowing how challenging it must be for a family to understand their child’s neurological illness, Rivera makes it a point to contact families, walk them through the process of making heart-wrenching decisions, and help them as they deal with physical and emotional stress. Over the past 8 years in the epilepsy center at Children’s Hospital, Rivera has touched the hearts of many. When a young boy was diagnosed with a fatal neurological illness, Rivera took it upon herself to direct the family to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Hospital Holiday program. With her help, the family was able to take one last vacation together, and receive presents on Christmas. Rivera is also passionate when it comes to teaching others about epilepsy. Serving as the team leader for neurology nurses, she helps with orientation and training for new nurses at the Epilepsy Center, and even makes personal visits to help school nurses with their students suffering from the illness. With more than 14 years of experience, Rivera knows the importance of connecting with her patients. As one co-worker says, “She makes sure that all children receive not just the medical care they need, but the attention they deserve.” —Lane Watkins

Psychiatric

Winner
Ken Adams
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Finalists
Mary Hawes
Children’s Medical Center

A child who would only tumble to get to places and had an eating disorder was one of Mary Hawes patients. Hawes, along with other nurses, worked to help the child walk and treated her eating disorder. “Really thinking about how we took care of her by taking in all the factors was very rewarding,” Hawes says. Hawes, a psychiatric nurse at Children’s Medical Center’s Psychiatry Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders, is a mother of three. “Every single day I come in and I’m taking care of other people’s children, and I think, ‘How would I treat my own children? How can I take care of them the way I would take care of my own?’” Hawes says. Hawes, a nurse for 22 years, was originally a pre-med student but switched to nursing after she realized doctors don’t get to interact with patients the way nurses do. —Kristen Taylor

Bonnie Kobilansky
Texas Health Resources

Bonnie Kobilansky, a psychiatric consultant liaison nurse practioner at Texas Health Resources, was taking care of a patient in her 80s who had been assaulted in a parking lot. Kobilansky, who has been a nurse for 39 years, asked the patient if she wondered, “Why did this happen to me?” “When good things happen to you, do you ask, ‘Why did this happen to me?’” The patient, who was suffering from a broken hip responded, “No, you don’t. When bad things happen, you don’t ask why did this happen to me. Life happens.” Kobilansky thought, “My goodness, I should be paying you instead.” This was more than 15 years ago and yet she will never forget it. For Kobilansky, nursing has been an experience where she has learned more from the people she meets. “It’s given me a wealth of experiences over the years,” Kobilansky says. “I’ve met people from eschews of life that teach me something every day that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.” —Kristen Taylor

Research

Winner
DaiWai Olson
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Finalists
Sarah McNeil
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Sarah McNeil first encountered Ryan Dant when he was 10 years old. Participating in a clinical trial for a rare genetic disorder, McNeil helped Dant through the trying experience. The treatment worked, and the two parted ways. Years later, McNeil, now a Senior Research Nurse at UTSW Medical Center, discovered Dant was again suffering repercussions from his disorder and was having trouble getting treatment. McNeil worked tirelessly to get him admitted for treatment, and Dant experienced tremendous results. It is not just patients like Dant that drive her. “I enjoy being the patient advocate and doing anything I can to help a patient through whatever they are experiencing, whatever fears and feelings they have.” The science behind it all drives her as well. “It is very basic science, but it takes a team to be able to translate that into a practical application. It’s hard to bridge that gap. But that’s what I love.” —Lindsey Beran

Ja’Net Nash
Parkland Health and Hospital System

As the sole nurse practitioner and CEO of NetCare Mobile Clinic, Ja’Net Nash dealt primarily with impoverished children and their parents. Nash continued in that role for 10 years, and then almost 7 years ago, began her stint as a Nurse Practitioner for Parkland Health and Hospital System at the Dallas County Jail. “I didn’t seek out the position, but I found I was prepared for it by my work at NetCare,” she says. “I would see parents come back from jail, and they were broken.” It is Nash’s goal to alter that cycle and send parents back whole to their children. “My mission and purpose in life is to send people out of incarceration as healthier people so that they can make better choices and be better people.” Nash acts as a positive, non-judgmental force for inmates during what she describes as “hopefully just a temporary time in their lives.” —Lindsey Beran