2020 Star Nurses Weekly Spotlight - Chapter 5

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.


Karin Kutscher – Virginia Hospital Center

Karin Kutscher

Hard. Laborious. Unglorified. Raw. Karin is quite frank in describing her profession. “But the ability to help a patient, a family member, a fellow nurse, a doctor or a colleague is truly satisfying for me.”

The McLean, Va., native and Marymount University graduate counts those colleagues as her inspiration for their “tenacity, courage and persistence in the ICU. “From shift to shift,” Karin says, “their commitment to improving a patient's situation and the teamwork that goes along with it is paramount. Together nurses, doctors, EMTs, technicians, therapists and environmental (cleaning) do good work.

“It is my privilege to work beside them,” she adds. “By not losing sight of this keeps me humble and motivated.”

In fact, as she reflects on her Star Nurses recognition after only four years in the field, Karin deflects the honor onto her colleagues. “This pandemic crisis has created unprecedented challenges for our society,” she says. “So the truth is, I stand on the shoulders of giants. Recognizing me as a Star Nurse means recognizing my co-workers and colleagues, as well, because they serve as my role models. It is my honor to share the spotlight with them.

“Nursing is the backbone of the health-care system,” she concludes, “and any recognition that lifts us up and highlights the highly educated and skilled professionals that we are inspires me and gives me hope for the future.”


Kathleen A. Gross – Association for Radiologic and Imaging Nursing

In five decades in nursing, Kathleen still keeps the names and memory of her mentors in mind as she attends to those in her care and those she is shaping. “I am inspired by the leadership of the many nursing faculty members I have met throughout my education,” she says. “Each has contributed to who I am as a nurse. I reflect on their attitudes, knowledge and leadership skills when mentoring today.”

Kathleen, with multiple degrees and certifications from Harrisburg Hospital School of Nursing, Notre Dame University of Maryland and University of Phoenix, is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Radiology Nursing. As a professional in that discipline, she understands the need for current, accurate and relevant information for radiology nurses and aspires “to always provide that content in each issue.”

She explains, “This is a very dynamic specialty and requires a great deal of flexibility, creativity and interest in continuous learning. It is a privilege to be able to responsibly influence the direction of the specialty, and I take that very seriously.”

She is inspired by the growing importance of nursing in general. “When I entered nursing school, opportunities for nurses were mostly at the bedside,” she points out. “Today, nurses have so many specialties from which to choose, many more roles inside and outside the hospital setting.”

Nursing is gaining more recognition for its value in the health-care system across the globe, says the Mechanicsburg, Pa., native. “Nursing has a history of responding to crises and being the advocate for the patient. The current covid-19 pandemic has increased the visibility of nursing to the public in a profound way,” she says.

Kathleen points to the vulnerabilities: “The loss of team members, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even job loss.” She sees the leadership challenges and the access and supply issues. “This pandemic has given nursing a new road map demonstrating where much work needs to be done.”

Despite the complexities and burdens of a new age, Kathleen has always believed in gaining the trust of the patient. “Making each encounter with a patient count by showing a warm, caring attitude is so important. It may just be another day in your life as a nurse, but to the patient it is always a unique day.”

With her recognition comes a responsibility, she says. “It is an honor to be recognized as a Star Nurse for my contributions to nursing. It is also humbling that this designation carries the responsibility to continue to make meaningful contributions to nursing for this generation and the next.”



Kathleen Kerntke – George Washington University Hospita

There is no daily routine in nursing for Kathleen. The constant changes in evidence-based practice keep her on her toes, she says, and “working with amazing colleagues” teaches her new things every day.

“I'm inspired by the increased sense of ownership for patient outcomes,” she says of her profession. “I love seeing nurses who are empowered create positive change for their patients.” And personally, the University of Pittsburgh graduate admits she loves “the daily opportunity to meet someone in their crisis and help them through it.”

How does she accomplish that? “I try to put patients at ease with small talk and laughter,” she says. “I'm always looking to laugh!”

A nurse of seven year’s standing, Kathleen, of West Chester, Pa., nonetheless credits Mom and Dad for much of what she has accomplished. “My parents inspire me—I hope to be like them when I grow up!” she jokes. In fact, they have inspired her all the way to recognition as a Star Nurse. “It's such an honor!”



Kellie Chang – MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

Kellie Chang

Having been a nurse for nine years, Kellie has found herself significantly motivated by her patients. “Being a patient advocate,” she says, “allows me the satisfaction of being the voice for those I am serving in an effort to provide them the best care they deserve.

“The recent pandemic,” she continues, “has shown me how important it is for people to feel heard and to express their feelings, especially when alone in their hospital room. I try to remain upbeat and cheerful for my patients and co-workers. I have learned that humor goes a long way and that cracking jokes and creating smiles has an everlasting impact.”

These are lessons Kellie learned from her mother growing up in Fairfax Station, Va. “She has driven me to intentionally ‘be present’ with all those around me whether they are my patients, co-workers, friends or family. I could only hope that I could inspire others in my life half as much as she has inspired me.”

The Case Western Reserve University graduate finds it fulfilling to observe today’s graduates as they enter the field. “Welcoming a new nurse to the unit and witnessing first-hand their excitement and transition from being a student to caring for patients on their own is rewarding in so many ways,” Kellie says.

“Being recognized as a Star Nurse is truly an unexpected and treasured honor,” she adds. “I have learned that moments are not guaranteed and that I have the ability to choose how I spend them with people that instilled their trust in me to take care of them the best way I know how. The true stars are those people—my patients—who grant me their trust, and I feel honored to care for them.”



Kidist Beyene – Sibley Memorial Hospital

Kidist Beyene

“It's very exciting for me to be recognized as a Star Nurse,” says Kidist. “I've joined nursing organizations, volunteered in my community, volunteered for special projects at work and completed optional additional training in the attempt to prove I'm worth investing in.”

Kidist has never shied away from duty. “My personal style is to work really hard,” says the Chancho, Ethiopia, native, “and to prove my dependability by never being late, never calling out from work and always staying as late as it takes to get the job done.”

She had an inspirational influence in what it takes to succeed in this way: her grandmother. “She encouraged me to help people whenever possible,” Kidist recalls. “She is nearly blind, with high blood pressure, but has run our family farm for years by working hard and treating people right.”

The 16-year veteran nurse, a graduate of Chamberlain University, wants to get her doctorate in nursing. “To do that, I need to excel at any classes or training or work so I can receive financial assistance” to make it happen, she says. The opportunities “to be a community leader and expand my skills” are the ultimate in motivation.




Krista Introcaso – Inova Children’s Hospital

Krista Introcaso

“Nursing has slowly but surely evolved into a central part of who I am,” says Middletown, N.J., product Krista. “Taking care of others and making them feel heard is all I want to do, and since starting my career, I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.”

Reinforcing that notion, in her two years in the profession Krista has been under the inspirational leadership of one of her unit supervisors, Susy Smith. “She has worked on our unit for 25 years now,” says Krista. “To me she is an expert on our patient population, and can always answer any question I have. She is efficient and straightforward when necessary, but always knows how to comfort families. She is a nurturing presence for the staff and makes everyone feel loved all the time. I want to be like her in so many ways.”

Other co-workers, as well as patients, keep Kirsta motivated, she says. “Even when work is very physically, emotionally or mentally draining, getting to know children and their parents and to be supported by incredible co-workers makes me want to come back every time.”

Recently, these colleagues have the James Madison University graduate in a state of awe “with the way everyone has handled being a nurse during a pandemic. There is so much sacrifice, understanding and perseverance that happens on a daily basis right now.”

Even—or especially—in these difficult times, Krista tries to make her patients laugh and smile. “When a child undergoes a difficult procedure,” she says “I always try to affirm, in a developmentally appropriate way, that they've been brave and got through something difficult.”

Star Nurses recognition, to Krista, “means that I have supportive people in my life that would take the time to nominate me for this type of award. Having support, especially while in this field, is necessary to be the best version of myself.”



Ladan Eshkevari – Georgetown University

Ladan Eshkevari

Growing up in India, Ladan’s exposure to the roles she saw of women on TV were limited to Saint Teresa of Calcutta and comedian Lucille Ball. “Although I like a good laugh,” she says, “it was Mother Teresa's actions that stayed with me. The way she cared for the sick and the poor, and the manner in which she was held in such high regard resonated with me.” Ladan also observed poverty and the plight of the human condition. “I wanted to somehow be a solution.”

Today, Ladan is an accomplished nurse and professor of nurse anesthesia practice with 30 years in the field. “My students are the brightest people I know,” she says. “They come from all over the country (and the world), each with their own unique story and how they found nursing. Seeing them each grow in their own way and contribute in a meaningful way to society gives me the greatest inspiration.

“Seeing the next generation of young nurses entering into the field of nurse anesthesia is my biggest motivator,” she continues. “Teaching these young men and women…seeing them grow and flourish, is the greatest motivator.

Ladan’s patients are also a source inspiration—and joy, she adds. “They fight and grow despite their obstacles. They make my problems seem small, and inspire me more than they probably know.”

The University of Maryland graduate has no doubt seen many chages in the profession. One that she hopes will continue to evolve is the removal of barriers to practice for all advanced-practice nurses (APRNs), especially in her subspecialty of nurse anesthesia. “This will increase access to care and reduce the cost burden to the health-care system,” she says.

As do all nurses, Ladan applies a personal touch in her work. “Well, I did mention Lucille Ball,” she laughs. “I love to laugh and have a pretty good sense of humor. My students, like my teens, probably roll their eyes at my mom jokes, but I have to tell you that I do make them laugh out loud.”

Ladan considers it “so special” to be recognized as a Star Nurse. “This is such a great honor, especially because I know so many amazing nurse colleagues who are deserving of the title. It is very humbling to have even been considered, but actually being picked is probably my greatest personal achievement yet.”



Leslie Woodward – Inova Mount Vernon Hospital

Leslie Woodward

Leslie always wanted to be in the medical field. “The human body and how it functions is amazing!” she exclaims. Now a veteran of 28 years in nursing, the Richmond, Va., native finds her inspiration in “making a positive difference in another person’s life.”

She loves being a nurse, learning something almost every day and “seeing new innovations in both medicines and techniques to treat our patients, used in combination with evidenced-based basic nursing care.”

Leslie says personal connection is a big part of good nursing. The James Madison University graduate always tries to connect with patients “by looking them in the eye and holding a conversation, if possible, to show I see them as a person and not just as a patient I am there to treat.”

She never expected to be recognized for her work in such a grand way as Star Nurses. “I am very proud of how my career has evolved and feel that I am making a positive difference,” Leslie says. “This nomination just makes me feel more proud.”



Lindsay Wells – Inova Mount Vernon Hospital

Lindsay Wells

When Lindsay’s 4-year-old daughter says, “I want to be a nurse like Mommy so I can help people,” it inspires Mommy “to be the best nurse I can be. It makes each day worth it.”

And each day in the emergency department can be hard. “After a few years, it is easy for some nurses to get ‘burned out.’ However, knowing that I can be there for someone on one of the worst days of their lives is a feeling that is irreplaceable. Hearing the success stories of patient survivals and then going onto live full, healthy lives keeps me motivated to keep going to work every day providing the best and most compassionate care I am able.”

As Lindsay points out, health care affects everyone. “Being a nurse allows me to be available for healing, teaching and offering compassionate care to help save lives.” She loves being challenged, she says, and also loves the constant  growth in knowledge and personal—and professional—development.

“I love the magnet journeys,” says the Mississippi University for Women graduate. “Seeing nurses providing evidence-based research to improve their practice and satisfaction of staff and patients is empowering . It inspires me to get more involved to help make changes in my own organization.”

The Columbus, Miss., native was taught, she says, “to treat others how you want to be treated.” She looks upon each patient as if they were her own family member. “Wrapping them in warm blankets and tucking them in, feeding them turkey sandwiches or making phone calls to update their worried family members…many of these little things can get overlooked in the ER setting, but it’s the little touches that seem to mean the most to people.”

Of star Nurses recognition, “It’s so incredibly humbling that someone took time to recognize me, first of all,” Lindsay says. “I thoroughly enjoy my job and the community I serve, and I feel so grateful and blessed to be recognized for such an incredible honor.”


M. Michelle Prescott – Chesapeake Public Schools

M. Michelle Prescott

Michelle had a change of heart. “When I was younger, I thought about going to medical school,”says the Waynesboro, Pa., native. “My father was an obstetrician and suggested I complete my undergraduate degree in nursing, and if I still wanted to be a physician afterwards, he would support me in the process.

“During my clinical rotations I realized I was no longer interested in being a doctor,” she continues. “Nursing has always been professionally and personally fulfilling for me.” The opportunity to learn and grow professionally on behalf of her community is what motivates her, the Duke graduate says.

Michelle is the preschool intake nurse for the Chesapeake, Va., Public Schools Department of Exceptional Learning. “My younger son has autism and went through the same process 24 years ago,” she says. “I am constantly on the lookout for strategies and resources that will help these children and their families navigate a very challenging phase in their lives.”

She is inspired by the educators she has worked with, whom she describes as  compassionate and dedicated. “I worked for 13 years as the school nurse at a Title I primary school and was deeply impressed by the teachers and staff members who worked so diligently on behalf of their at-risk students.”

She wanted to help them as well, and became certified in asthma education, CPR, youth mental health first aid and more. In fact, Michelle is CPR coordinator for her school system.

She has studied ministry curriculum to help individuals who are going through personal crisis. She has volunteered during the pandemic with the Medical Reserve Corps to man the covid-19 call center at the Norfolk Health Department. She has delivered PPE to doctors’ offices and residential care facilities, and trained to be a contact tracer. “I am motivated by the constant opportunity to learn and grow,” she says.

Michelle has been inspired by her profession as a whole, which is often identified in surveys of the public as having the highest degree of integrity of all professions. Increasingly, she has observed, care is provided while risking the health and safety of the nurses themselves. “No wonder health-care workers are considered heroes these days,” she says.

She has advocated legislatively for the right of students and families to have full-time, on-site school nurses. “Not all schools have their own full-time nurse,” she points out. They are needed everywhere “to assess for illness, provide first aid, administer complex treatments and procedures, and ensure students are healthy, safe and ready to learn.”

For all her accomplishments, Michelle says she feels humbled to be recognized as a Star Nurse. “It is not an honor I would have envisioned for myself. I feel immensely privileged to be included.”


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