2020 Star Nurses Weekly Spotlight - Chapter 7
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.
Latasha C. Clark-Danik – George Washington University Hospital
“My patients are my family away from my family,” says Latasha. “As nurses, we spend more time with patients than anyone else in the hospital setting. We share a lot of intimate moments with people who we do not know during their most vulnerable time. We laugh together, we cry together, we survive together, and some, we die together. I care for my patients as if they were my blood. I am here for them when their family cannot be.”
Latasha, however, finds her inspiration in her actual family. “My family inspires me to be the best nurse I can be for my patients. I love my family and will do anything for them. My family gives me the strength and support to spread my love and compassion into caring for my patients.”
Latasha, a nurse of 10 years’ standing, sees opportunities for nursing leadership and advancement that are “never ending,” as she says. “My background is trauma critical care,” she continues. “I never thought that I would be developing a dedicated Rapid Response Team here at The George Washington University Hospital with the best critical care nurses that anyone could ask for. I love my team and everything we have become,” she says.
“I cannot hold back my personality, says Latasha, who hails from Baltimore and is a graduate of Villa Julie College. “I am a very strong, calm and outgoing critical care nurse. I am the nurse who is full of surprises and will always have a new trick up my sleeve. I always got your back.”
Latasha says her recognition as a Star Nurse feels amazing. “It is a blessing. I am very thankful that my hard work has not gone unnoticed.” She adds that she has always enjoyed helping others during their greatest time of need. “I enjoy making everyone’s day brighter and making them feel well.
“Nurses are the true force of health care, Latasha says. “I am the force.”
Lisa Dellinger – Valley Health Winchester Medical Center
Nurses were once thought of just as someone to do what the doctor ordered, Lisa observes. “Now we are part of the team and our opinion matters. We are our patient’s voice. We not only care for the patient, but we also care for the family. We help bring everyone together to make for the best outcomes.”
When she was young, Lisa wanted to be a pediatrician but after joining the military and becoming an aeromedical technician, she realized she wanted to be a nurse. “Nurses get more time with their patients,” she says, “and get to be more personable.”
Today, the 24-year veteran nurse is a member of the cardiovascular intensive are unit. “I like admitting hearts,” she says. “We come together with procedural precision, and everyone knows their job without being told. That lights a fire in me.”
The Hedgesville, W.Va., native and graduate of Shenandoah College loves getting to know her patients. “I want to know about their lives. I want to find ways to connect with them so they trust me and will hopefully listen to me better about their care.”
Lisa sees Star Nurses recognition as a special honor. “To think I made a difference to someone so that they would take the time to nominate me is very humbling,” she says. “It brings it all back into why I do what I do every week. It has renewed my energy.”
Mary Teale – Inova Mount Vernon Hospital
As is often true in the profession, Mary was inspired from an early age by her mom. “My mother, Madeline Hickey, was a diploma nurse from Portland, Maine. I remember as a child picking her up from where she worked as a pediatric nurse. My mom often told me that I would say at an early age of 4 that I wanted to be a nurse to help the sick, just like she did.”
Now, with 30 years in the field, Mary is named as a Star Nurse. “I am so thankful and appreciative to be recognized as a Star Nurse,” she says. “It is an amazing feeling. I feel so much pride, and special.
“Knowing that the care I give helps patients regain their independence and improves their quality of life” has long been her motivating force. She is also inspired by “the recognition for our profession since the covid pandemic.”
Mary, who graduated from Towson University and is a native of Fort Washington, Md., salutes her colleagues, too. “I work with an amazing group of nurses and clinical technicians,” she says. “We are truly family; we have potluck celebrations with the most diverse, delicious foods from different cultures. We have the best teamwork, which makes nursing so much fun. We are able to face anything because of the outstanding teamwork.”
Rose Plessinger – Children’s National Hospital
Making a difference in the lives of children has always been a calling for Rose. “Nursing provides me the opportunity to not only provide quality care to a child in need, but also to provide education to the patient and their family that can help to improve the child’s health and prevent future hospitalizations.
“Children are my inspiration,” she contines. “Children are so resilient, they adapt so quickly to the stress of their chronic illness and hospitalization. I have seen pediatric patients go through treatment that you know is painful—and shortly after, they are singing, role playing, or caring for the caregiver. They stay so positive and can bring such joy to the health-care team. Their resiliency, imagination and positivity are a daily inspiration,” says the 14-year career nurse.
“I love caring for other people,” Rose says, “and find such gratitude in the work that I do. The love I have of nursing has provided me with such joy, and I cannot imagine a more rewarding career.”
Rose, whose hometown is Big Tannery Cove, Pa., says she is motivated by the knowledge that as a nurse leader, “I have an opportunity to lead and inspire change that will result in quality care and better outcomes for the pediatric population.”
She is inspired by the changes she has seen in the profession, most significantly “the inclusion of nursing into key decision-making and strategic planning for the hospital. The chief operations officer at our hospital is a nurse, and together with our chief nursing officer, they advocate for nursing and the value that a nurse’s knowledge and experience bring to the process,” the University of Phoenix graduate says.
“I feel honored and humbled to be recognized as a Star Nurse,” she says. “To be recognized for doing something that I love is the greatest gift.”
Zaid Kelib-Kidane – Inova Mount Vernon Hospital
As a supervisor, Zaid says it is imperative to make each day better than the last for her patients and her team. “Once I clock in,” she says, “I give myself entirely to my patients. I try my best to provide variability in my patients’ routines and improve their day overall. I do this by building meaningful relationships based on trust. This allows me to understand my patients’ needs and problems on a deeper level and ultimately better serve them.”
Caring for others is in her blood, Zaid says. It is prevalent in the culture of Eritrea, her homeland. “My mother suffers from asthma,” she adds, “and as a child, I used to watch nurses visit our home to give her treatment and admired their ability to impact her health and our family.”
She remembers her big brother, Seyoum Kelib, as her greatest inspiration. “He became a martyr in the struggle for Eritrean independence,” she says. “He saw potential in me to become a medical practitioner at a young age and encouraged me academically.”
War with Ethiopia came in her early adult years. “I did not get to pursue a career in the medical field then. It was when I moved to the U.S. and already had a family of my own that I decided to go back to school and fulfill my dream—and his—and becoming a nurse.” She graduated from Mount Carmel College of Nursing.
Caring and problem-solving motivate her equally. “Working on a rehab floor, we receive many patients that first enter our unit on a stretcher,” Zaid says. “Seeing them walking again upon discharge is a joy that fuels me to continue serving our community.”
At the same time, she says, “I am inspired by the very change that my fellow nurses and I create every day through various committees. I pride myself in being a strong problem-solver,” she continues, utilizing highly evidence-based practices to inform those working groups. “We create new guidelines to improve our performance based on daily activities, research and the issues we encounter on the floor.”
She offers sincere thanks “to all the colleagues who have contributed to this achievement” of Star Nurses recognition. “It is encouraging, humbling and truly rewarding to know that others recognize my dedication and have appreciation of my work.”
Ruth L. Ayele – MedStar Washington Hospital Center
In her five years in the profession, Ruth has seen nurses evolve to become “change agents,” as she describes them. “For nurses to be actually involved in hospital operations, policy formation and other health-care processes” in this way, she says, “is such an inspiration. I think nursing as a profession has started to speak up more and recognize its value.”
In fact, the native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, says her fellow nurses inspire her. “I work with some of the most caring, smart and compassionate nurses. My co-workers work so hard and give so much of themselves to provide inspirational patient care,” I often think that we could have a better health-care system in which things were done in a more ideal way, but seeing people work very hard while being caring and compassionate to provide perfect care in an imperfect system simply helps me to push more.”
Ruth finds her motivation in being responsible for the care of her patients. “I know that when I clock in to work, I am taking on the responsibility of caring for a human being. The better I am, the better my patients are. I recognize the value of my responsibility and that keeps me motivated.”
Ruth, with degrees from Marymount Unviersity and Purdue Global University, says she loves to laugh and joke. “I walk into my patient’s room with a smile, which can be very challenging when you know you have lined-up tasks (and lately has been harder with a surgical mask on!).” But in all seriousness, she adds, “I try to approach my patient with a smile and an obvious joke or two. Our patients are already dealing with a multitude of things and the day goes by a bit easier with a couple of laughs.”
Ruth says that, “In all honesty, I don’t think I fully understood the meaning of this nomination.” But once she did, she was “just filled with overwhelming joy. To be recognized as a Star Nurse just seems like a dream I never dared to yearn for.”
Sarah Rose – Inova Alexandria Hospital
“No nurse is in this profession for the accolade,” says 10-year veteran nurse Sarah, who nonetheless feels honored by her Star Nurses recognition. “We focus on caring for others,” she says, “ and doing the best we can by helping those who need a helping hand.”
For Sarah, it was a calling. “I knew since a young age that I wanted to help others,” she says. “My mother was very smart and got me to volunteer with the Martha Jefferson Junior Volunteer program. Volunteering with the nurses there opened my eyes to a wonderful profession.”
A great many people have inspired the Charlottesville, Va., native along the way: “My great Aunt Marcella for being a nurse and a nun. My grandfather who helped set up the means for me to go to college. My parents and sister for their love and encouragement. My Ahma, my ‘other mother (M.O.M),’” Sarah continues; “and friends for listening and challenging me to think.” And she includes her co-workers, “current and former, for the amazing, acomplished nurses they are from around the world!”
During the pandemic, she has also found inspiration in those around her, “how everyone stepped up to work together and care for those in need.”
Sarah, a graduate of Radford University, finds motivation “in the small, quiet moments where I am able to make a connection with my patients, a co-worker, or helping encourage the next generation of nurses to come.
“It’s in the everyday actions,” she concludes. “Just be genuine and take the time to hold a hand, stop and listen. I would never have been able to achieve what I have if it was not for my co-workers and family.”
Sheri Harsanyi – Virginia Hospital Center
Sheri is passionate about nursing. “Caring, passion and integrity are who I am as a nurse, developing a personal relationship and a desire to care for others. Passion is having that powerful feeling to inspire excellence and enhance patient care and patient well-being. Passion inspires the team to succeed. Passion embodies giving of self, providing comfort, trust and healing,” she says.
“I became a nurse because I wanted to provide comfort and help others, whether a patient, family or colleague, making a difference in their lives.”
Sheri, a 35-year veteran nurse, has more to say about her colleagues. Each day their work reminds her of why she became a nurse. “My nursing colleagues in the intensive care unit embody the nursing profession: innovative, resilient and compassionate. I am very proud to be a nurse and member of this ICU team.”
Sheri, who studied at her hometown Bluefield (W.Va.) State College and at Marymount University, finds her motivation in the every-day. “Every day is a new day with new experiences and learning opportunities.” For example, she says, “To mentor a nurse and inspire them to develop and grow is rewarding and inspirational. To be able to help a patient along their spectrum of care gives a sense of purpose.”
She adds that she is “always inspired with nursing’s ability to adapt and grow with the ever-changing and challenging forces in the health-care setting. Nurses are at the forefront with our clinical expertise, innovation and resilience in making a difference with the medical and technological advances in medicine today.” And, as Sheri points out, “We have a voice.”
Taylor Livick – MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
When Taylor was 14, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. During treatment, she recalls, “I was introduced to a whole new support system of nurses, nurse practictioners and doctors who helped me learn, grow and succeed” with her diagnosis. “I feel truly lucky to have had those people in my life,” says the three-year member of the profession, “and for introducing me to the nursing career and sparking that passion for me.”
Fast-forward from that youthful introduction to a devotion to the aging. “When I first started nursing school,” the Burke, Va., native says, “I was drawn immediately towards geriatrics. Every shift at work I go by the motto, ‘how would I want a nurse to treat my grandparent?’ and I really try to provide that care each shift I work.
“Working on C62 at Georgetown,” she says of her floor, “I have always loved how our staff treats each patient on the unit like family. That mentality and love for our patients makes it easy” for all the personalities to shine through.
“I was shocked,” says the University of Virginia graduate, “and so incredibly honored to be recognized as a Star Nurse. I genuinely love my job and I know how amazing the nursing staff at Georgetown University Hospital is.”
Traci Schultz – MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
“My hospital has the mission of cura personalis,” Traci points out, “which means ‘caring for the whole person.’ Ever since I became a nurse, this phrase has really resonated with me. I really believe that my patients are able to recover better when they know that I see them for the person they are and not as the patient in the bed.”
In fact, her patients are a source of inspiration, the nurse of nearly five years in the profession says. “I learn so much from them and am always in awe of their ability to be positive during tough times.”
Traci says it is her colleagues who keep her going. “The teamwork that occurs in the nursing profession,” says the Newark native and Marymount University graduate, “drives you to not only be your best for your patients but for those that you work with.” She adds, “The covid-19 pandemic has shown, not only me but the world, the resilience of nurses.”
She says she wishes “every nurse could be recognized for everything they do,” as Traci has been through Star Nurses. “I am very thankful to be recognized for this award, especially by someone I work with.” As Traci reminds all: “Nursing is a selfless profession.”
Victor Mazzanti – Children’s National Hospital
Victor’s story as a pediatric hemotolgy/oncology nurse begins in the U.S. Army.
“I was fortunate to be selected into an Army program while serving, and given the opportunity to attend the University of Illinois and get my nursing degree,” Victor says. He then became an Army Nurse Corps officer and served his last five years on active duty at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a pediatric nurse before retiring as a captain in 2004.
“As a father,” he reflects, “I knew from the first time I took care of a pediatric oncology patient, I found what I was meant to do in life. It’s the most rewarding job I have ever had. To be able to do something that you love and to take care of children that inspire you every day you work is the best feeling in the world,” says the veteran of 23 years in military and civilian nursing service.
“The strength and courage our patients have,” Victor says, “is what inspires me every day I’m at work. They have a willingness, he says, “to go through the unimaginable to win that battle and fight against cancer and to endure whatever they have to do: MRI, bone marrow aspirate, needle sticks, chemotherapy. And to still have a smile when you walk into their room is the most inspirational gift you could ever hope for.”
The Streamwood, Ill., native says his determination to provide every patient the best care he can is what keeps him motivated. “Even if for just a moment they forget where they are and how sick they are. To see them grow stronger and come back year after year to visit you just because you made that kind of impression. I still see my first oncology patient I was blessed to take care of at Children’s National,” he says. “I have seen her beat cancer and grow into this most wonderful adult years later.”
“I have a big personality and I’m not afraid to be happy or loud at work” Victor says, “because it’s not about me but what I can do to make them comfortable and to trust me. Sometimes it’s a simple touch on their arm; crying, dancing, singing, coloring or making tie-dyed shirts. It’s what we do to add that personal touch so that the patient feels safe and secure in my care.”
Victor says he is humbled and honored by Star Nurses recognition. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to represent my fellow hematology/oncology nurses,” he says. “I want to thank the American Nurses Association and The Washington Post for this award” he adds. “I will take pride in my role as a Star Nurse and continue to be a role model for generations to come.”
Viktoria Holley-Trimmer – Children’s National Hospital
Viktoria did not choose nursing. “Nursing chose me,” she says. During the nursing shortage of the 1980s, she was presented the opportunity of a full scholarship at the University of the District of Columbia and accepted.
“I entered into the field and fell in love with the opportunity to assist people during their darkest and brightest moments,” she says. “I have been able to walk some of the most difficult and joyful walks a person is confronted with. It gives me satisfaction, knowing I've made some sort of difference in a life. So that's why I say nursing chose me.”
Viktoria says she is motivated by knowing that “I'm living in my purpose. I've worked in multiple health-care arenas,” she points out, “and I believe in each environment I've left people feeling more empowered to move to the next phase of their lives.” A nurse of 36 years in her hometown of Washington, Viktoria is currently a D.C. Public Schools nurse through a program administered by Children’s National.
“The elevation of nursing as an independent profession, as opposed to an allied assistant, has been immensely inspiring to me,” she says. “It has prompted me to encourage new and younger nurses to elevate their careers to the highest attainable levels.”
To be recognized as a Star Nurse “is truly an honor. “Nursing chose me,” Viktoria reiterates, “and has given me such unexpected joy that merely being a nurse has been my honor. However, the recognition that the little things I've done along the way have done good, and that someone wants to recognize me, is overwhelming.”
W. Wilson Will III – The Johns Hopkins Hospital
For Wilson, the field of nursing was a love/hate choice. “I chose nursing,” he says, “because I love hospitals and despise suffering. It allows me space to combine my passion for bedside care with clinical teaching and research into the sociocultural aspects of health and affliction.”
His greatest inspiration comes from two leaders in palliative care. “Lynn Billing, RN, BSN, CHPN, a palliative nurse coordinator at Hopkins; and Betty Ferrell, RN, PhD, FAAN, FPCN, a pioneer in palliative research and education at the City of Hope both inspire me for their sophisticated compassion toward the afflicted at life’s margins.”
Seeing such visionary nurses “taking positions of leadership within multidisciplinary entities,” Wilson says, “from committees and working groups, to academic journals and high-profile research institutions” stands as one of the most inspirational advances he has seen in nursing in his nearly five years in the field.
He finds his motivation through those around him, including “my wonderful co-workers in nursing, medicine, PT/OT/SLP, pharmacy, environmental services and other disciplines,”
The Fremont, Calif., native and Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing graduate says his prior training in medical anthropology and medical humanities contribute to his talent for communicating with patients, helping him “to listen non-judgmentally and to be attuned to subtle interpersonal cues that can have a profound impact on a patient's illness trajectory.”
Wilson says this accolade of Star Nurses recognition reflects the patience, encouragement, and insight of others “at least as much as anything I've done. I've been fortunate to have had many excellent mentors.”
Yolanda D. Hightower – Capital Caring Health
“I have always believed that I had the heart of a helper,” says Yolanda, an 18-year veteran nurse. “I saw nursing as a way to give back to others while also setting a standard to help educate and motivate towards changes in the health-care literacy of those around me.”
She was inspired to pursue nursing by an older “sister-friend” who first sparked Yolanda’s interest in the profession. “She always seemed to light up when she talked about her job,” Yolanda says. “I used that same energy and drive to help propel me to graduate from nursing school” at Washtenaw College. She adds that there are others who continue to encourage her toward her advanced degrees. She is also motivated by her children, “who see me as their hero,” and by scripture.
Yolanda, who comes from Inkster, Mich., says she is most motivated by her past. “I was encouraged to pursue my goals even when the obstacles seemed too big for me to conquer,” she recalls. “I realize that by staying motivated and not allowing obstacles to defeat me I am setting an example for my children.
“I am also motivated by the fact,” she continues, “that each failure or mishap is just another step in the ladder called success. I believe that I must ‘PUSH’ (pray until something happens) until I can no longer ‘PUSH’ any further.”
Within the field, she is inspired by continued legislation which, she notes, will allow nurses with advanced degrees “to be seen as valuable, independent sources of health care. The ability to obtain my advanced degree,” Yolanda says, “and have the ability to practice with a level of autonomy is what motivates me towards continued growth.”
Laughter and compassion are her personal touches to connecting with her clients. “I try to find something daily to make sure that I see them as individuals and not just an illness.” It may be music, for example. “I may play a song for them, sing for them so that they see that they are more than just a disease process but an important piece of all that I do.”
Being recognized as a Star Nurse is both humbling and encouraging, Yolanda says. “To know that your community of peers is watching and recognizing your hard work” encourages her to continue pushing “for greatness and professionalism.”
Zach Wotherspoon – Inova Alexandria Hospital
Zach chose nursing due to his interests in caring for others, the science of medicine and the desire for career flexibility. “Now, 10 years after graduating with my bachelor’s and having completed my doctorate of nursing practice,” he says, “I continue to be passionate due to the major impacts we have on individual patient interactions, community health, policy and health-care reform as well as the advancement of knowledge within our profession.”
A graduate of George Mason University and a native of Stafford, Va., Zach says he is inspired by evidence-based care in his profession. “The intentional acts of nursing defensible in the literature,” he says, “advance our profession and provide opportunity for the best care to be delivered.”
However, he clarifies, “The phenomenal team of nurses I work with is my biggest inspiration.” In additon, “practice-inquiry of students, new graduate nurses and those aspiring to work in the health professions motivate me.”
He is an advocate of integrating humor into appropriate aspects of care and patient/co-worker interaction. Zach says humor “is imperative for healing and positivity.”
Zach describes his Star Nurses nomination as “an honor to be recognized and I am humbled by the opportunity. It will be my duty to recognize other nurses who are deserving of future nominations.”