2020 Star Nurses Weekly Spotlight - Chapter 2

The Washington Post in conjunction with the American Nurses Association would like to shine a light on our 2020 Star Nurses finalists. Nominated by patients and peers, and then selected from among hundreds of nominees, these women and men, working on the front lines of health care in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, represent the epitome of skill, professionalism and care. As a part of the recognition of the 2020 Star Nurses finalists we will spotlight nurses each week through the end of summer.


Bibiana Cloonan – Prince William Novant Hospital

Bibiana Coonan

Bibiana loves science and loves teaching. With 32 years as a nurse, she says, “I get to do those things every day I work.”

She was inspired by her mother, a retired nurse. “I always saw her reading journals and nursing books long after she became a diploma-degree nurse. She instilled the work ethic that I have and I never remember her being sick or calling out from work.” And so she entered SUNY Stony Brook and earned her degree.

Bibiana is motivated by a desire to always make things better, “not only for my patients but for my coworkers, too.” She believes in keeping things streamlined and safe.

She is also a believer in shared governance. “When nurses take the time to make their voices heard and step up to be part of change,” it is evidence of the importance of the staff nurse. Nurses must “control their domain since it is their environment and they are the ones to keep it healthy and sustainable.”

A sense of humor also helps Bibiana provide support to her patients and coworkers. “Working in critical care for 30 years has allowed me to grow in many ways but I have used humor to get through some of the toughest times,” she says.

To be recognized as a Star Nurse “is a true honor,” Bibiana says. “My career has spanned the military to civilian nursing, and I had an opportunity to work in the United Kingdom for several years. I feel like this is a sweet cap on all of those experiences. I see being recognized as a Star Nurse as a big thank-you hug for many years of hard work!”


Camilia Rose James – Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Camilia has always had a strong desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives, caring for those who are often neglected or underserved. It’s a trait the Baltimore native learned at home.

“My mother, Alice James-Carroll, has been a nurse for more than 40 years,” Camilia says. “She introduced me to nursing when I was 16 and has served as an excellent role model” throughout Camilia’s education at Notre Dame of Maryland and her 12 years in the field.

It’s a profession she has seen change over those years. She is motivated “by the fact that nurses now have so much autonomy and we are actually viewed as a profession. The world recognizes the impact that we have on health care, and the fact that we are very influential and at the forefront of contributing to our community’s health and well-being,” she says.

Also keeping Camilia motivated is “the desire to make positive changes in health care and to empower and educate people on the importance of health promotion and self-awareness to live a more fulfilling life.”

On the floor, she lets her personality shine. “It’s my natural gift of human connection—I always find a way to make my patients smile or laugh despite their situations.”

As for being named a Star Nurse, “Words cannot express my gratitude,” she says. “A Star Nurse is a nurse who goes above and beyond the call of duty; one who has passion for the profession and truly advocates for the well-being of her patients. 

“I love nursing and everything about it! Each day I learn something new and I am committed to making positive changes. I will continue to value humanity and comfort my patients with compassion and empathy.”



Canary Girardeau – Summit Health Institute for Research and Education (SHIRE)

Canary Girardeau

In 65 years as a nurse, Canary has certainly seen change. The biggest?

“The major change I've noticed,” she says, “is that many who were trained as ‘bedside nurses’ are taking leadership roles and becoming health practitioners in their own right; some with their own primary practices. This is not only inspiring but encouraging for the future of our profession.”

For as long as Canary can remember, the Memphis native and University of Wisconsin- Madison School of Nursing grad has wanted to take care of people. “My biggest Christmas wish was always a doctor/nurse kit, so I could practice taking care of my nine siblings!”

She finds her inspiration in people who serve others. “This is more evident than ever when I think of the brave men and women on the health-care front line during the current pandemic. Their stories are my real inspiration.”

How does she remain motivated after 65 years? “My biggest motivation comes when I notice a change in the behavior of someone I’m working with,” she says. “The real ‘aha’ moment comes when they’ve learned that they have the control over improving their own health—and I’ve helped them learn that in some way.

“My goal is always to be a great listener,” she continues. “That’s what puts a patient at ease. I want them to know that they have my total attention, which actually enables me to hone in on their unspoken concerns as well.

“I’m so appreciative of The Washington Post and the American Nurses Association for recognizing nurses for the work we do. I’m flattered, yet humbled” to be named a Star Nurse.



Cardina Ross - Inova

Cardina Ross

Cardina, a D.C. native, became a nurse for a very simple reason. “I chose nursing to help and heal the sick and their families.”

As is often the case among the profession, her mother is also a nurse. “My parents inspire me daily, especially my mom. My parents have always worked hard to take care of my sister and me. I am the person that I am today because of them.”

That inspiration drove her as she earned degrees at Marymount University (BSN) and Grand Canyon Univerity (MSN-L). She is also inspired by her faith.

Cardina finds her motivation in her own goals and from two special colleagues. “I strive to be the best that I can be in everything that I do, including nursing,” the seven-year veteran says. “I am also motivated by my unit director and my nurse mentor. They are both amazing leaders that I admire.”

The increased use of research and technology in nursing to improve the practice has been an inspration. “I am also inspired,” she says, “as an ANCC certified Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse, by the increase in awareness of the need for more mental health resources in communities nationwide.”

Cardina points to her compassion and understanding as being “the personal touch” she contributes to her work. “Not only do I give it to patients,” she says, “but also to my team members. I try to be the nurse and team member that I or my family members need.”

She says that to be recognized as a Star Nurse “means so much” and that the accomplishment reassures her that she is in the right profession.

“This recognition will only push me to be greater in the oncoming chapters of my life.”



Cherissa Jackson - AMVETS

Cherissa Jackson

To Cherissa, Star Nurses recognition means a “combat nurse” is in the spotlight, “and I represent all the combat military nurses that might not ever get this opportunity. It means I represent the nurses,” she says, “who continue to move past their challenges and love this profession. It means the readers won’t forget nurses like me and others on the front lines saving lives everyday. I accept the honor of being the face of the faceless and the voice of the voiceless.”

Cherissa, a South Carolina native and graduate of the Medical Univeristy of South Carolina,  makes a point to smile every moment she encounters her patients. She tells the story of one double-amputee veteran that she “had the pleasure of taking care of” at Walter Reed. He named her “Smiley” because when he awoke from sedation, her face and her smile were the first things he saw. “He cried and said my smile gave him hope that he would survive his injuries” she says.

She sees diversity and inclusion in the nursing profession as an inspration. So is seeing more nurse entrepreneurs using their expertise to grow great businesses.

But there’s no motivation like realizing the impact of her work is fostering change in the world. “Being able to bring hope to those that feel they have nowhere else to turn” keeps her going.

As do her twin daughters, for whom Cherissa is proud to say she is “creating a legacy.”



Cristina Garcia – Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

Cristina Garcia

Cristina, a nurse of 16 years, loves working with people and making a difference. Her patients would seem to agree in how they respond to her outgoing personality.

“They feel comfortable talking to me,” she says. “They feel like we’ve been friends for years. Their gratitude and appreciation keeps me going.”

Cristina’s greatest inspiration, however, is her family. “All I do is for them.”

The New York City native and Pace University-Lienhard School of Nursing graduate regards being recognized as a Star Nurse as truly an honor. “Words cannot express my gratitude.”



Cynthia Phillip – George Washington University Hospital

It was a profound loss that brought Cynthia to nursing. “With the passing of my brother at the tender age of 29,” she says, it led her to the desire “to make a difference in the lives of mankind. I initially considered medicine, but I felt nursing would give me that personal touch.”

Her brother is still her greatest inspiration. “In addition to being my mentor, my teacher and my advisor, he always encouraged me to be the best I can be and do the best I can do. The sky was the limit.”

Staying motivated in her profession is easy. The Trinidad native, a graduate of the Port of Spain General Hospital School of Nursing, says that nothing is more pleasing than to hear family, friends, staff and colleagues “verbalize: ‘I am so proud of you’ and ‘you are my inspiration.’”

In 38 years Cynthia has seen great deal of change in the field, notably the technological advancements that give nurses the tools at they need “to effectively care for their patients,” such as bedside vital-signs machines, bladder scanners, vein finders and more.

She counts her social skills and a drive to consistently raise the performance bar as personal touches she brings to the profession. “Raising the bar starts with me. I have to set the tone for others to follow. If I want to maintain a safe and clean environment, I have to pick up that piece of thrash on the floor when I see it; respond to call bells when I am walking down the hallway; wash my hands before and after leaving a patient’s room.”

Being nominated a Star Nurse “is an awesome feeling,” Cynthia says, “and at the same time I am humbled by the mere fact someone appreciated my work performance and took the time to recognize me. I am grateful.”



Darolyn James Milburn – The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Darolyn James Milburn

Nursing allows Darolyn to give of herself to each person she encounters. “Regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, I consider it an honor and a privilege to safely render the best care to each person. I offer comfort and support to them through their anxiety during the preoperative period, offering assurance that I am there with every breath and every heartbeat.”

Her mother, a retired special educator, inspries Darolyn to strive “to offer as much compassion and support to each patient and my colleagues as she did for her students and peers. My mother raised me to believe that we are all part of the human family. It is imperative to be considerate and respectful of others.”

Throughout her 18 years in nursing, she has been motivated by colleagues and by the young people she mentors. “It is important for me to set a good example to young people who may not have considered nursing as a career,” Darolyn says. She networks with area high schools to have students shadow CRNAs and to see the many facets of nursing. She works with a group of young girls, “and seeing them grow into strong, young, scholarly leaders keeps me motivated to continue to give my time to them. I thank their parents for allowing me to be a part of their lives.”

The advancements in nursing practice inspires this graduate of East Carolina University (BSN, RN) and Villanova University (CCMC, MSN, CRNA). “I often think of ways that I can use my skills and knowledge to further advocate for patients and to strengthen collegiality between nurses and physicians. I enjoy the collaboration led by nurses that demonstrates our leadership and value in health care.”

Darolyn calculates that when she meets a patient or is taking them to the OR, she has three minutes or less to gain their trust and and to demonstrate her ability to keep them safe. “Most times, my sense of humor is welcomed but there are times when it requires a touch, hand holding or even a hug. “I am very personable with patients and I know they appreciate that.”

“The work I do is not for recognition,” she says of the Star Nurses honor, but the nomination “is indeed satisfying. I am thankful to those who nominated me and that I was thought of so highly.”



Donna Taylor – Virginia Hospital Center

Donna Taylor

“For as long as I can remember,” says 35-year professional Donna, “I wanted to be a nurse. It combined my love of science with a deep desire to help others and to make a difference in their lives. Nursing is a dynamic experience, and each day that I work I have the opportunity to learn something new and to share compassion with an individual who is suffering. I am blessed. I love my job.”

She credits Virginia Hospital Center with inspiring her practice. Through this Magnet certified institution and supportive management, “I have been encouraged to create, mentor, teach and collaborate. My ideas are met with enthusiasm and support. This hospital has allowed me to make a difference in the lives of those who are addicted and their families.”

For Donna, addiction hits close to home. “My daughter Melissa, whose survival from addiction is a miracle, not only inspires me, but reminds me to give up on no one. There is hope. I firmly believe that each person struggling with addiction needs an anchor, someone who is there to support them in the horrors of their disease. Sometimes a family member, an AA /NA friend, or medical personnel; a connection to their humanity. I am inspired by all those who have the courage to admit that they have an addiction and to ask for help. I am privileged to meet them each day I work.”

But the Cedar Crest College graduate admits that she is often overwhelmed by the unspoken bias, ignorance and prejudice she sees towards individuals who suffer from addiction.

“I have met incredible, gifted, intelligent, accomplished, educated people who suffer from addiction/alcoholism. This disease does not discriminate, yet as a society we discriminate towards those that suffer. I am not denying the dark side of addiction, the tragedies that litter lives and reek endless havoc. I have seen it, I have lived it; however, I know that with support, medical intervention, counseling and community there is hope for more success stories and less tragedies. I want to be part of the change that I hope to see, and this will keep me motivated day after day.”

The changes Donna has seen in the nursing profession in the last 35 years “are mind boggling,” she says. She cites technology and best practices advances that have produced more efficiency and less possibility for errors. “More nurses are specializing and getting advanced degrees. Nurses represent the largest workforce in healthcare and we are now a diverse group. The image of the white-uniformed woman with the cap has been replaced by men, minorities, mid-life career changers and of course women in all walks of life.

“In spite of these changes the core of our practice remains unchanged,” she adds.  We value life, want to minimize suffering, offer a healing touch and a human connection to all who need our knowledge and support.”

With patients, Donna knows that she “may be the first individual that has offered them acceptance and compassion in a long time. I watch them transition from fear, apprehension and embarrassment to signs of gratitude, a beginning. Everyone has a story, and these stories are often riddled with trauma, abuse, pain and loss. The steps toward sobriety are courageous ones, and I have the opportunity to share compassion and acceptance as their stories unfold.

“It is with humility and gratitude that I accept this Star Nurses acknowledgement of my tireless efforts to improve the lives of those that face addiction and their families. The realization that my efforts to impact change are noticed gives me hope for all those who are struggling with addiction. My hope is that others will realize that addicts lives matter, that this disease needs acknowledgement, support , compassion and hope. This recognition brings me hope and motivation to continue on this path and to continue the fight for all those that are suffering. Thank you,”



Elaine A. Lydick – Alexandria Health Department

Elaine A. Lydick

“Why did I become a nurse? Elaine asks. “To help people. Since I was a child I have always been inspired by the Golden Rule, and loving my neighbors as myself. Mister Rogers once quoted his mother in saying, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

“I strive to be that helper, advocating for my patients and empowering them to take control of their health. As a nurse I have the ability to be a helper, nurturer, educator, advocate, companion and friend. I can help people get through hard times, and celebrate the good times with them. I am thankful to have a profession that allows me to better the lives of others.”

In her three years in nursing, Elaine has always been inspired by her patients. “I am inspired by the strong mothers I work with, who work thankless jobs for little pay, in order to provide a better life for their children. I am inspired by the teen moms who stay in school while still caring for their babies. I am inspired by the resiliency of my patients who have been to hell and back, and still wake up each day and continue fighting.”

Public health nursing is not a “quick fix,” the Fairfax, Va., native and George Mason University graduate says, “but a long-term strategy to improve the lives of individuals and the community. It can be hard to see the changes I am making, which can be frustrating at times. But every now and then I get a message from a former patient with a picture, telling me how their baby is healthy, and the assistance I provided them made all the difference.”

One way Elaine makes a difference: “I smile a lot. A smile can speak volumes and transcend barriers.”

She sees being being recognized as a Star Nurse is a great honor. “Having someone think of me and take the time to nominate me means the world to me.”

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