HOW WE DID IT: We reached out to local hospitals, private practices, doctors, and patients, and asked them to visit our website to nominate a registered nurse in 25 categories. We received 456 nominations. We asked the nominators to answer three questions regarding how the nurses affected their lives, community, and profession. The editors selected the best nominations and sent them to a panel of registered nurses in various fields. The panel included Diane Twedell, chief nursing officer at Southeast Minnesota Region of the Mayo Clinic Health System; Elaine Harrison, director of marketing for the Visiting Nurse Association; Dr. Stephanie Woods, associate professor and associate dean at Texas Woman’s University; and Elizabeth Poster, dean and professor at the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing. The panel could not judge those they work with directly. We compiled the judges’ scores to select the winners and finalists. We also vetted the registered nursing licenses and reviewed disciplinary action of each finalist. 

To read more about the winners, go here.

Cardiology

Winner
Megan Elizabeth Linker
Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital

Finalists
Consuelo Mendoza
Methodist Charlton Medical Center

Growing up, Consuelo ”Cony” Mendoza’s role model was a favorite cousin who left for Cameroon to volunteer after she finished nursing school. When Mendoza’s diabetic grandfather entered the last stages of his life, she watched and assisted her older cousins, all nurses, take care of him. That’s when she realized nursing was her future. Mendoza, a cardiologic nurse in ICU, has been night charge nurse for 15 years at Methodist Charlton Medical Center. A compassionate caregiver, she can be found sitting with a patient at night, listening to his fears and doing whatever she can to make him less frightened. “I remember taking care of a terminally ill man one night,” she says. “He really wanted comfort and needed compassion in the last hours of his life.” Mendoza is also the leader of Patient Satisfaction team and part of the Frontline Leadership team. She also provides community CPR classes and helps a school with health screenings and immunizations. —Jehadu Abshiro

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Adrian Felder
The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano

Described by her colleague as innovative, incredibly reliable, and a strategic thinker, Adrian Felder has developed and implemented two disease-specific clinics, Pulmonary Hypertension and CV Genetics, as well as tools that improve information flow at the Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Care at The Heart Hospital at Baylor. A clinical nurse coordinator at the center, she collaborates with physicians and the nurse practitioner in both clinics to ensure each patient receives the best care. Along with her work as coordinator, educating staff, patients and family members of patients has been integral in her work. She manages nurse orientation for the clinics and serves as CACC’s Champion for Medtronic’s Lumin Education Touchscreen Interaction program. “I knew nursing was a robust field with many opportunities,” Felder said. “I can do it for a lifetime.” Since joining the hospital in 2011, Felder is recognized as ”an extremely strong contributor to her department’s success.” —Jehadu Abshiro

Stacey Jantzen
Methodist Mansfield Medical Center

A patient, after having a heart attack, told Stacey Jantzen how grateful she was for the team that saved her life. The patient told Jantzen she wanted to see her two sons come home from Afghanistan. Her two sons were able be by her side during her by-pass surgery. The patient unfortunately passed away but had the chance to see her sons one last time. “My experience with this particular patient touched me because I realize how precious our time is with our loved ones and the moments we get with them,” Jantzen says. Jantzen, who has been a nurse for 18 years, is the manager of Cardiology at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. “I enjoy the interaction between my patients and knowing that I am their advocate, “Jantzen says. She has always felt that her calling was to care for others and for her the patient always comes first. —Jehadu Abshiro

Sheela Varughese
VA North Texas Health Care System

A patient at VA North Texas Health Care Center went into flash pulmonary edema. Sheela Varughese, a staff nurse, was able to analyze and report to the physician. The patient survived and was transferred to Telemetry unit. Varughese has been a nurse for more than 20 years and has spent the last 16 years in the Intensive Care Unit at VA medical center. She serves as a charge nurse and has been awarded with many Courtesy in Action awards. According to her colleague, she is always working on renewing and making polices to better help patients and the unit. One of the many ways Varughese contributes to the team is by leading the team on ventilator associated pneumonia reduction through oral care by placing oral kits in rooms to preform oral care every four hours. As a result, the hospital hasn’t had a VAP case in the last two years. —Jehadu Abshiro

Education

Winner
Phyllis McCorstin
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

Finalists
Anthony Paterniti
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

Serving as the director of nursing education at Methodist Dallas Medical Center is just one of Tony Paterniti’s many responsibilities. However, despite his involvement in multiple organizations, he is never too busy to help a person in need. As an RN, Paterniti now serves as a volunteer health home nurse. He sees patients that would not otherwise receive care due to the limitations of Medicare. One patient in specific was a chef suffering from a hip fracture. Paterniti made sure the man was treated by the right doctors and received proper therapy, so that he was able to walk again. Without Paterniti's help, the man would have gone untreated, possibly immobilizing him for the rest of his life. It’s no wonder his colleagues admire his advocacy and even refer to him as “The Neighborhood Nurse.” Paterniti ‘s caring nature has made an impact not only on his patient’s lives, but his students, as well. With a PhD in Higher Education Administration, he has worked to expand the Methodist Dallas Nursing Department by creating graduate and nursing student extern programs, continuing education classes, and informative sessions. —Lane Watkins

Ruth Robert
Baylor Medical Center at Garland

“First God, second others, and third me” is Ruth Robert’s personal philosophy on life. Robert, Director of Education & Research and Magnet Coordinator at Baylor Medical Center, has spent the last 24 years of her life as nurse. “I really enjoy and cherish every moment where I am able to make a difference in someone else’s life,” Robert said. Although Robert, inspired by her aunt to be a nurse, no longer serves as a bedside nurse, she still puts nursing in the forefront of her life. When a flight attendant suffered an acute abdomen on Robert’s flight to Vietnam, she didn’t hesitate to administer care that saved the flight attendant’s life. The airline company offered her an upgrade to business class but she declined because she just wanted be a regular passenger. “I just feel like it’s a blessing and an honor to serve the community and people,” Robert said.

Emergency Medicine

Winner
Lucy DeTamble
Baylor University Medical Center

Finalists
Sherry Garner Sutton
Baylor University Medical Center

A husband and two children came to the Baylor University Medical Center’s emergency room after a fatal motorcycle accident involving the mother of the family. Sherry Garner-Sutton, Supervisor of Nursing at Baylor and a Certified Pediatic Emergency Nurse, had to tell the deceased’s two children that their mother had passed. The 11-year-old daughter had become so distraught that she struck Garner-Sutton in the face. After Garner-Sutton prayed with the family, she worked with the medical examiner so that the family could say goodbye. The daughter begged to have her mother’s half of the best friends necklace they shared. The daughter received the necklace, apologized for striking Garner-Sutton, and hugged her. Garner-Sutton made a difference in the girl’s life. “Each person I see makes a difference in my life as hopefully I do theirs,” she says. “I don’t think nursing is a job. It is a calling.” —Jehadu Abshiro

Roland Zachary
Texas Health Harris HEB

When it became apparent that a patient at Texas Health Harris wouldn’t make it through the evening, Roland Zachary went the extra mile. The patient, who was still coherent, was able to communicate that he wished for his DNR status to be honored. Zachary worked with the family and doctors to get everyone to follow the patient’s wishes. Zachary, a nurse in emergency medicine, assisted the family through the difficult time. Right before the patient died, the daughter gave Zachary a small hand-whittled cross that the patient had made for him. He still has trinket and uses it as a reminder of the potential impact he can have. Zachary’s sincerity in promoting compassion has led to patients requesting him as a nurse. The unit’s patient satisfaction scores went from 77 percent to 96 percent and his co-workers are certain that Zachary’s bedside manner has a lot to do with this. —Jehadu Abshiro

General Practice

Winner
Nergis Blood
John Peter Smith Health Network

Finalists
Prabh Batra
Baylor Medical Center at Garland

Prabha Batra’s first oncology patient was a 20-year-old with leukemia who had about one year left to live. He couldn’t speak any English. Batra, supervisor at Baylor Medical Center at Garland, was inspired by this patient to develop Touch Time. The program eases the process for patients by arranging time for patients to meet with a physician, patient care tech, social worker, a “Touch Time” nurse, and chaplain. “Seeing the patient suffering is so hard,” Brata says. “We get so attached to them.” Of her 28 years in nursing, Batra has spent the last 23 at Baylor Garland. Batra’s dedication to helping people is exemplified in her work outside of the hospital as volunteer nurse. “I truly love being a nurse from the bottom of my heart,” she says. “It makes me physically feel good because I helped someone.” —Jehadu Abshiro

Cheryl R. Canady
Texas Health Center for Diagnostics and Surgery

Texas Health Center for Diagnostics and Surgery wanted to improve hygiene scores for physicians and physician satisfaction. The hospital ordered hand hygiene stations with photos of Mona Lisa that stated “Please Wash Your Hands.” The stations encouraged staff and patients to wash their hands, but not the physicians. Cheryl Canady, the charge nurse, suggested replacing Mona Lisa pictures with those of physicians that practice excellent hand hygiene. Now physicians regularly ask how to get their picture on the hand hygiene stations. Canady’s idea improved safety, the physician hand hygiene scores, and provided physician satisfaction. Canady is passionate about the future of nursing as a leader and thus has recently returned back to school to obtain her bachelor’s degree she wants to do her part in aiding the Institute of Medicine report by being one of the nurses to obtain a bachelor’s degree by 2020. —Jehadu Abshiro

Diane Wright
Baylor All Saints Medical Center Fort Worth

A young man with congestive heart failure frequently came in to Baylor All Saints Medical Center of Fort Worth because of his hear fluid. One day, he turned to Diane Wright and bet she had never had real soul food. Soon after, his mother cooked a full meal for the entire nursing staff and him. “He just became close with us,” she says. “Some of the patients, you remember their names and you never forget them.” While most of Wright’s friends couldn’t stand the sight of blood or needles, she was unfazed by neither. So she became a nurse 38 years ago and now serves as the Progressive and Step Down Unit Nurse manager at All Saints. Wright, along with a group of nurses, went to Baylor Dallas to train in cardiovascular nursing. She was instrumental in establishing the nursing end of the cardiovascular surgery program at All Saints. —Jehadu Abshiro

Gerontology

Winner
Barbara Harty
University of North Texas Health Science Center

Finalists
Debbie Beerley
Doctors Hospital at White Rock Lake

It’s been 40 years since Debbie Beerley became a nurse, and it’s been 32 years since she joined the nursing staff at Doctors Hospital at White Rock Lake. In the three decades Beerley has worked at Doctors, she’s enjoyed working with repeat patients and now she even takes care of previous patients’ children. A medical surgical nurse, Beerley is frequently the go-to nurse on the floor who serves as the relay person between the director and staff to implement new practices. In addition to her regular duties, Beerley helps run the weekly acute care for elderly meetings with physicians. She is also responsible for helping doctors and other nurses with the hospital’s in-house computer system. A patient advocate first and foremost, Beerley’s colleague describes her as a “nurse’s nurse,” someone who is there to make sure things are safe and the patient gets what he or she needs. —Jehadu Abshiro

Jane Nunnelee
Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing

Jane Nunnelee’s experience as a candy striper in high school solidified her desire to become a nurse. She even graduated early to pursue her nursing degree, and this May will be her 40th year in nursing. Nunnelee is the senior lecturer at Baylor University’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing. In 2010, she was awarded a $1 million grant, the Gerontological Nursing Initiative, to educate health professionals, caregivers, and older adults on the best practices in geriatrics and gerontology. “I’ve always felt the need to be an advocate voice for the older adult because their voice is lost in health care,” she says. As a geriatric nurse practitioner, she has volunteered at a free clinic to provide preventative care to the geriatric population. Nunnelee also regularly visits, cooks for, and provides transportation for the elderly in her neighborhood. “It’s given me a reason every day to get up and make a difference,” she says.

Hospice

Winner
Pamela Green
Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton

Finalists
Nancy Sweeney
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

A patient was in the last few months of his life. He hadn’t contacted any of his nine siblings in 30 years and was facing his medical ordeal alone. Nancy Sweeny, a Pallative Care nurse at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, asked if she could contact the patient’s family. The family was able to reconnect and support each other in the last hours of the patient’s life. “For me, nursing is caring,” Sweeny says. Sweeny began her nursing education in 1979, but she had to take a hiatus after she began a family. It was 20 years before she was able to return to school to finish her degree and pursue a nursing career in palliative care. “One of my goals in caring for patients and families is to ensure their experience of illness is one of support,” Sweeny says. “That each member of the family receives the information and education to understand what’s happening.” —Jehadu Abshiro

Jessica Woolard
IntegraCare Hospice

Jessica Woolard is a case manager at IntegraCare Hospice. Her experience has led to her ability to recognize what to expect in a patient’s disease process based on a diagnosis, age, family dynamics, and outside influences. She is able to avoid problems, prevent pain and suffering, and improve the quality of life for patients up until the time of their deaths. According to her colleagues, Woolard is always thinking of how to make things better, more comfortable, and more peaceful for her patients.

Home Health

Winner
Lynda S. Cunigan
Golden Years Homecare Specialists, Inc.

Finalist
Kathy Ripley
Methodist Mansfield Medical Center

Kathy Ripley spent her weekends growing up tagging along side her mother, who was a nurse, to the hospital. “I’ve always considered myself a caregiver,” says Ripley, who has been a nurse for 39 years. Ripley, a nurse in the gastroenterology department at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, developed thank you cards, signed by the physician, anesthesia provider, nurses, and technicians that are sent to the patient after 72 hours. The cards expressed the appreciation of the caregivers and encouraged patient feedback. Ripley has also developed a process were bi-weekly biological testing is performed in the GI lab, leading to a 100 percent pass score being achieved consecutively. She streamlined a process that decreased the turnover times by a third and she worked on developing an electronic educational course to ensure the facility met regulatory requirements with moderate sedation. “I get a lot happiness from taking care of others,” Ripley says. —Jehadu Abshiro

Intensive Care

Winner
Michael Rogers
UT Southwestern Medical Center Zale Lipshy University Hospital

Finalists
Hugo Cantu
John Peter Smith Health Network

Hugo Cantu had no idea what nursing school would entail, but he graduated knowing two things: nursing school was more difficult than anything he had previously done and nursing itself was more complex than he had imagined. Cantu is an ICU nurse at JPS Health Network. “My position involves a lot of critical thinking, physical skills and abilities, and never-ending continuing education,” she says. It is a combination of Cantu’s can-do attitude and his attention to, and compassion for, patients and their families that contributes to his success. Cantu’s peers consider him an “expert nurse.” He is willing to go the extra mile, even working an additional fourth consecutive shift when necessary, in order to ensure a patient receives a “continuity of care” to work towards a positive outcome. All of these attributes help Cantu give patients “every fighting chance for a full recovery.” With such quality characteristics, Cantu is a nurse patients want in their corner. —Lindsey Beran

Hannah Emert
UT Southwestern Medical Center

The first to receive the Daisy Award, Meritorious Award, and Strauss Award in a 12-month period, Hannah Emert is clearly at the top of her game. As an assistant nurse manager in the medical surgical ICU at UTSW Medical Center, Emert not only collects accolades, but also exudes positive energy in her patient-centered nursing practice. Her caring nature extends to both the patients and their family members. One patient’s spouse gushed about Emert, saying their family had been blessed not only with the “best nurse” but with “an angel” to care for them. Another patient, who happened to be from Emert’s hometown, still regularly tells Emert’s father what a difference Emert made in the patient’s life. Such comments are why Emert went into nursing. “It is such a joy to see the smile on someone’s face when you have helped them through a troublesome time.”—Lindsey Beran

Lesly Anne Hamilton
Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton

It was in high school that Lesly Hamilton first realized her love of people and tolerance for “blood and guts” pointed towards a future in nursing. Hamilton is an intensive care nurse at Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton, and in a relatively short time frame, she has demonstrated her willingness to go the extra mile. When the Cardiac Catherization Lab opened, Hamilton took on the role of training her peers in Sheath Management, making herself available 24/7 until her peers were properly trained. She also volunteered to learn electronic health record charting and teach it to her peers and physicians. A modern-day Clara Barton, Hamilton’s philanthropic nature joined with her nursing career lead her on mission trips to Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, and Brazil in order to provide medical care to people who have not received such care in several years. It is on these trips, Hamilton explains, that “she knows she is meant to be a nurse.” Overall, as one peer puts it, Hamilton “is what you hope all new nurses will become as their practice evolves.” —Lindsey Beran

Internal Medicine

Winner
Sharon D. Smith
UT Southwestern St. Paul Hospital

Finalists
Michelle Hendricks
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

The word “noncompliance” makes Michelle Hendricks a little hot under the collar. “Patients aren’t noncompliant. It’s generally just that doctors and nurses haven’t taken the time to understand their needs,” she says. Because of her opinion, Hendricks, a Community-Based Case Manager at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, created a Heart Failure Manual on her own time. Recognizing that many of her congestive heart failure patients had lower education levels, she worked countless hours to develop the almost-complete manual, so as to arm the patients with the knowledge necessary to help them after they leave the hospital. In the process, she broke down barriers between multiple departments at Methodist, bringing them together to provide a disciplined message to the patients. “As caregivers, we only have a short opportunity while patients are in the hospital to empower them to live healthy lives,” she says. It is her goal to make sure that in that short time, the patients receive the information that makes healthy living a reality. —Lindsey Beran

Melissa Mitchell
Methodist Mansfield Medical Center

Melissa Mitchell began her career as a licensed vocational nurse, but she eventually became a registered nurse, moving up to her current position of nursing clinical coordinator at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. It was her experience as an LVN that instilled her love for education and for nurses. “Someone took me under her wings and taught me, and I have had the passion to do that for others ever since,” she says. Mitchell also initiates new programs that are effective in getting both results and employee participation. One such program ensures safety interventions are in place to prevent skin breakdown, falls, and hospital-acquired infections, and as a result, her department has reduced the number of patient falls for the last 3 years. “I am just doing what God told me to do,” Mitchell says. “God chooses people and tells them what to do. He told me to be a nurse to help other nurses and my family, so that’s why I do what I do.” —Lindsey Beran

Leadership

Winner
Rosemary Luquire
Baylor Health Care System

Finalists

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Elizabeth Asturi
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

Elizabeth Asturi took on the role as interim Chief Nursing Officer during a very tumultuous time, when both the acting CNO and hospital president had left their positions. But she received nothing but praise for her role as interim CNO, and as a result of her leadership and compassion, Asturi was appointed the first Associate Chief Nursing Officer for Texas Health Presbyterian. When asked about her knack for leadership, Asturi explains that it must be a natural trait. “I find it rewarding to go into something in transition and turn it around,” she says. Also rewarding is her development of the second Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) program in Dallas, which offers patients a choice for care in the wake of a terrible event. “I am so incredibly fortunate and blessed by the people I work with,” she says. “It is because of those relationship that I have had my successes and accomplishments.” —Lindsey Beran


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Shelley Conroy 
Baylor University

With more than three decades of experience in higher education, health care administration, and nursing and health care research, it is no surprise that Dr. Shelley Conroy would be nominated for excellence in her field. Conroy spent her high school years in Germany, where she learned “the value of other cultures” and how exposure to other cultures can “broaden your outlook.” This lesson stayed with her. She believes that being open-minded is an integral facet of nursing education, making nurses “more accepting and understanding of different cultures.” As a result, she implemented and now leads a study program to China. “This trip gives students an opportunity to learn from the Chinese,. I encourage them to decide what they can bring back to make them a stronger health professional.” As a wearer of many hats—educator, nurse, researcher, and leader—Conroy exemplifies the dedication and selflessness that is often associated with the field of nursing. —Lindsey Beran


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Brenda Kay Blain
Baylor Medical Center at Irving

Brenda Blain is described as a transformational leader, who challenges and inspires the staff at Baylor Medical Center at Irving, where she serves as both Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer. Her challenge to emergency room nurses to decrease the time it takes for patients to see a provider once they walk through the door resulted in a decrease of “door-to-provider” time from 55 minutes for each patient to less than 20 minutes. And, her ability to interact with patients and their families during trying times inspires the nurses around her. When asked about her success, Blain modestly explains, “I am smart enough to surround myself with people who are smarter. I tell them the outcome I want, and they figure out how to get there.” While she admits she has no idea how she got into nursing, she discovered that she “loves every aspect of it.” No doubt that love is the cause of at least some of her success. —Lindsey Beran


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Mary Beth Mitchell
Texas Health Resources

Mary Beth Mitchell, the Chief Nursing Information Officer at Texas Health Resources, got involved in the field of nursing informatics in the late 1990s, and was immediately drawn to it. While Mitchell does not consider herself “tech savvy,” she does consider herself “creative and innovative.” “Because of my creative side, I saw the possibility of using technology to improve the experience for nurses and for the patients,” she says. With this in mind, Mitchell has been involved in many activities regarding hospital policies and standards of care, such as refining, clarifying, and communicating how order sets, delegated orders, and standing physician orders are to be carried out by nurses in an electronic health record in a manner consistent with applicable state regulations. Her initiatives are emulated by many other large health-care providers, solidifying her reputation, as one peer phrases it, “as a pioneer and role model in clinical informatics.” —Lindsey Beran

Long-Term Care

Winner
Michael Bobbitt
Presbyterian Communities and Services

Finalist
Nancy Awa-Ao
Baylor Specialty Hospital

Nancy Awa-ao is a long-term care nurse at Baylor Specialty Hospital. Awa-ao is a preceptor for new nurses and nursing students. At first hesitant to act as a preceptor, she found it to be very rewarding. “It is my goal to make a difference with these new nurses, and when some of them stay to work with us, it is very rewarding,” she says. While Awa-ao got into nursing only at the prompting of her brother, she soon realized that it left her feeling fulfilled. “I am so satisfied each night when I go home,” she says. “It’s nice to know that I made a difference. Even with difficult patients, I try my best, and it feels good.” A nurse since 1993, Awo-ao attributes her success to being able to accept any challenge and ask questions when she needs to. —Lindsey Beran

Neurosciences

Winner
Audrey Ayers
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Finalists
Crystal Ramirez
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

In her role as the Stroke Program Coordinator at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, Crystal Ramirez is respected by those around her. Motivated to learn more, Ramirez constantly strives to educate herself on the latest in stroke care. “I want nursing to be seen as any other profession held in high regard and education is one way to achieve that goal,” Ramirez explains. Changes occur rapidly in neurological injuries, but Ramirez contends that bad outcomes can be avoided through proper education. On one occasion, Ramirez recognized signs necessitating a different course of action and asked the physician to re-examine the patient. The physician did, and agreed with Ramirez, likely making a difference in the patient’s outcome. Ramirez is proactive, knowing that education and fast thinking can help save a life. That’s why, when seconds count, a patient “wants stroke coordinator Crystal Ramirez on their side.” —Lindsey Beran

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Nicole Stewart
Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano

Nicole Stewart was in a motor-vehicle accident that saddled her with multiple orthopedic injuries and a four-to-five month stint in a wheelchair. The experience, however, pushed her to become an orthopedic nurse. “I felt like I needed to share my experience,” she says. “I could understand what these patients were going through and use that to motivate them.” As a staff RN in the Orthopedic Unit at Baylor Regional Medical Center of Plano, Stewart works tirelessly to ensure that her patients are cared for and progress in the appropriate manner. Being able to see them progress is what keeps her going. “I had one patient who could not walk due to a hip injury,” she says. “Three weeks later, he was walking the length of the hall.” Seeing that progress makes her job rewarding and inspires her to take on leadership roles to better every patient’s experience. While Stewart’s accident was unfortunate, it has been a fortunate event for the patients in her care. —Lindsey Beran

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

School

Winner
Regina Miller
Jerry R. Junkins Elementary

Finalists
Cynthia Smalling
Lenore Kirk Elementary

Cynthia Smalling is the school nurse at Lenore K. Hall Elementary School in Dallas. Parents love her, students love her, and the staff loves her. You don’t have to look far to see why. She recently took the time to train the school staff on how to test, monitor, provide insulin injections, and properly record the procedure to ensure that a diabetic student would receive the best care. Smalling even learned Spanish so that she could better communicate with the student’s parent. Says her school’s principal, “We feel this is her calling. We are truly fortunate to have her as our nurse.” The school was recognized by the USDA as a Healthier US School and received the Gold Level award in large part due to Smalling’s attention to student nutrition and physical health. The ultimate benefit of Smalling’s focus on health—the school is reaching academic milestones, surpassing all of the Texas Education Agency’s 3 Tier requirements. —Lindsey Beran

Nicole Wolf
W.T. White High School

Nicole Wolf moved all the way from Wisconsin, where she worked as a pediatric ICU nurse at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, to Texas in 2006, where she now works as a school nurse at W.T. White High School in Dallas. Not only does Wolf complete her medical responsibilities, she is also a mentor for students. She loves talking with them and being able to give them guidance. She helps them through tough times at home, when they get in trouble at school, and when they just need someone to talk to. Wolf has two children of her own, but has 2,400 adopted students at school and feels it is her responsibility to keep them on the right track. She has created a safe environment at school to help prepare students for life after high school. —Katie Spurgin

Surgery

Winner
Shana Merrick
Baylor Medical Center at Garland

Finalists
Christie Briggs
Centennial Medical Center

Nursing is a calling for Christine Briggs. Starting her career when she was very young, Briggs worked in a nursing home in Wisconsin. Her weekdays were filled with bathing residents and her weekends were spent working with mentally handicapped residents. She knew she was in the right place because they showed her so much love. After nearly 10 years of working at Centennial Medical Center in Frisco, Briggs says she’s fulfilled helping and getting to know patients. With a total of 30 years of nursing experience, she has worked in almost every unit of the hospital and is currently working in day surgery. She enjoys educating patients and their families as well as working with fellow staff. “Look, listen, and love the patients and God will do the rest,” she says. —Katie Spurgin

Nikki Hurley
Key-Whitman Eye Center

As the director of nurses at Key-Whitman Eye Center, Nikki Hurley has a lot of responsibilities. She works in surgery; is responsible for all of the administrative duties, including paperwork and chart supervision; and oversees all regulatory compliance issues. She worked for an eye doctor in high school and was encouraged to study nursing in college. Hurley graduated from Abilene Christian University with her nursing degree, was married, and started working at Key-Whitman within a few weeks in 1995. She truly enjoys seeing the progress patients have made when they come back to the center and visiting with them. Before and during surgeries, Hurley tries her best to provide excellent care and to put patients’ minds at ease when they are nervous. Hurley loves that she works in a happy environment, where great news is usually being delivered to patients. —Katie Spurgin

Denise Tuinei-Taggart
Baylor Medical Center at Irving

Working at Baylor Medical Center at Irving, Denise Tuinei-Taggart goes out of her way to make sure patients and family members are as happy and comfortable as possible. “She is a compassionate and caring individual with her patients and her peers,” according to a co-worker. Tuinei-Taggart is also a great leader. She is resourceful and innovative, which influences others to be the same way, improving the people and things around her, said a co-worker. She created an entire new process to update and change medical information and consent forms for patients. The entire Baylor organization adopted the system. Tuinei-Taggart always seems to have a positive attitude and tries to lift everyone else up, both at work and in her community. Not only does she volunteer in her community and her church, she is also a clinical coach for new nurses and transforms mundane training and updates into enjoyable, creative tasks. —Katie Spurgin

Women’s Health

Winner
Kim Green
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

Finalists
Evelina Echols-Sutton
Methodist Charlton Medical Center

If being a nurse for more than 37 years makes you exceptional at what you do, then Evelina Echols-Sutton is just that. Echols-Sutton has held management positions for 32 of the 37 years as a nurse. Her gift as a leader has transformed Methodist Charlton Medical Center. “Since joining us as a manager for postpartum, this nominee has expanded the nursery to a Level II. She has enhanced our maternal and child unit nursing skills to include caring for general medical, surgical, and pediatric patients. This has been instrumental in driving organizational improvement efforts for patient satisfaction,” says one of her co-workers. Echols-Sutton created the Life Shine Bright Pregnancy Program, which offers prenatal classes for young mothers as well as educational support and networking opportunities. She is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, actively participating in educational health activities for her local school district and city. Alongside her remarkable gift as a leader, Echols-Sutton is a nurse who cares deeply about her patients. “This nominee has great compassion for every customer that she meets,” one of Echols-Sutton’s co-workers says. —Hayley Votolato

Erin Prendergast
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

Erin Prendergast’s love for nature is one of the many blessings she has to give her patients. She removes a chrysalis from her butterfly garden then packages it to hang in a basket filled with words of encouragement. Within a short amount of time, the butterfly emerges. She compares the lifecycle of the butterfly to the journey her breast cancer patients face after receiving their diagnosis. Prendergast has worked at the Peggy A. Bell Women’s Diagnostic Imaging Center for 15 years, giving strength to women who are fighting breast cancer. She has also founded the organization, On Butterflies’ Wings, teaching children the art of utilizing nature to give back to others. Although Prendergast didn’t begin her career in nursing, she knew her calling was to care for others. “I feel very blessed to be in the position to touch people’s lives,” she says. —Hayley Votolato

Amanda Truelove
Methodist Mansfield Medical Center

Amanda Truelove doesn’t need her four patient satisfaction awards at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center to show she is a nurse that leads by example. Her leadership is highly recognized by her co-workers through significant clinical-process improvements. These improvements have resulted in no central line infections or ventilator associated infections in the NICU for the past five years. Alongside her diligent efforts to improve the NICU, she has also led the Texas Ten Step accreditation process for the hospital. Truelove is described by one of her co-workers as “instrumental in improving ‘patient satisfaction’ and in leading the clinical staff to reach and surpass goals.” Truelove is known to go above and beyond all expectations to care and tend to her patients. “One of the best examples of her compassion as a caregiver of staff is when she sits down with patients and makes them feel like they are the only patient in the world, and diverts her attention to them so they know she is listening,” says one of Truelove’s co-workers. —Hayley Votolato