Star Nurses Spotlights: Caring to a fault, the reward of a challenge, lifting people up and more

The Washington Post in conjunction with the American Nurses Association would like to shine a light on our 2021 Star Nurses. 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 2021 Star Nurses we will spotlight nurses 3 days per week leading up to the virtual ceremony where six Nightingale Award winners will be announced on May 26th.

FatimAllah West – The Caring NURSE

LPN, Certified Dementia Practitioner ( CDP), Assisted Living Manager (ALM)

FatimAlla West 2021 Headshot

Many have thought the same: This time is different, and FatimAllah puts it into words.

“Nursing always has its challenges,” she states. “But experiencing the despair in the faces and hearing it in the voices of the families,” she continues, the covid-19 pandemic presented never-before experienced challenges from the beginning. One of the most notable of these was the persistence of the coronavirus itself, “giving us no opportunity to take a breath to recover.”

Through all the trauma, FatimAllah says, nurses emotionally supported the patients and families. “We are real human beings with feelings and emotions,” she reminds us. “We sometimes care to a fault (if there is such a thing). We really are the patient’s advocate (even when they don't realize that we are). We are overworked at times, but keep showing up. Our families sometimes suffer because of our career choice (quarantining away from our families so we can care for others).

“Now the world can see us, and understand us. We show up and provide care because we love!”

FatimAllah began her career at 19 as a certified nursing assistant at a geriatric center in Pennsylvania. A graduate of the Chester Upland Practical Nurse program, she is now a veteran of 25 years in the profession. She lives in Gambrills, Md.

For her, nursing was a natural choice, an unavoidable, “constant pull to give away love—and care. I have this ability to connect deeply to the heart and soul of the persons I provide care for.”

The best part of nursing “is seeing the hope in the eyes of the patients and families,” she says. To get there, she recommends a steady diet of laughter and hugs.

“Get a hug a few times a day. Laugh at something funny. I like to listen to babies laugh on Youtube. It cracks me all the way up.”

LeighAnn Sidone – Suburban Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medicine


LeighAnn Sidone 2021 Headshot

LeighAnn began her career as an oncology nurse. Now, as an administrator, she prides herself “on caring for those who touch our patients. I work hard to do this by creating relationships with all levels of staff. Along with my team, I create ‘fun’ and positivity in an effort to spread joy to those who do this important work.”

Of course, this is not easy. In fact, LeighAnn says, the most challenging part of her job is continuing “to find ways to lift others and build resilience. This is even more heightened since covid.” But with the challenge comes the reward: “Advocating for nursing and watching frontline nurses do their work” is the best part of her job, she says, as is being part of creating a work environment where staff can thrive.

LeighAnn, who studied at Duquesne University and lives in Dickerson, Md., has spent 27 years in the profession. “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse’” LeighAnn recalls. “I had an experience as a teen watching a nurse care for a dying family member. The kindness and skill of the nurse was something I always remembered.”

That memory, perhaps, informs her thoughts when asked what she thinks is the most important question one should ask of a nurse. “What do you do if you walk in a room and see someone struggling emotionally or crying?” is her reply.

“Nursing is humbling,” LeighAnn states. “Curiosity, compassion, patience.” In her view, these are the characteristic of a good nurse.

Kenneth Daniel – Inova Alexandria Hospital


Kenneth Daniel 2021 Headshot

Kenneth followed the footsteps of his mother and a few relatives into nursing, his career of choice. “My first baccalaureate degree had me on a path to do biomedical research or pharmacy,” he recalls.  “Working as a pharmacy technician afforded me the opportunity to meet and work with nurses, further solidifying my career move to nursing.”

Kenneth, who lives in Hyattsville, Md., is a 20-year verteran of the profession. He studied at George Mason University. His first role in nursing as a new graduate was in the intensive care unit at Inova Alexandria Hospital. “I became one of the first new graduates to be hired in the ICU,” he says, “as well as being the first full-time African American male hired at that time.”

Today, the best part of his job is the pleasure of working with “the most amazing team,” he says. “If I am half as good as I am thought to be, it is only because I never want to let them down. The work we do to improve the lives of our patients means everything. Inova Alexandria has been more of a family than a place to work.” If there is a downside, it is that some of Kenneth’s duties prevent him from daily interaction with team members. “Since the pandemic, I have acquired more responsibilities that require more time and attention.”

Kenneth describes his personal touch as his ability to hear and listen to his patients “and making them feel they have been listened to, heard, and assuring their concerns will be addressed. My personality shines through my professional demeanor while delivering a sense of confidence to allow team members to feel safe, comfortable and part of the team each and every day.”

After all, Kenneth says, “Nursing is caring.”

Gerundio “Gerry” Ursolino III – George Washington University Hospital


Gerundio Gerry Ursolino III 2021 Headshot

“I want to lift people up,” Gerry  says. It’s the reason he became a nurse a quarter-century ago. He studied at RTRMS-Makati Medical Center in the Philippines and began his career as a medical-surgical nurse there. He also studied at George Washington Univeristy. He lives in South Riding, Va.

Gerry describes himself as a “people-person.” It’s that individual touch that lets his personality shine at work.

For Gerry, the most challenging part of the job is spreading the available resources “to ensure everyone’s safety.” But the challenges are countered by the people he works with and cares for. “Nursing leadership, medical-surgical patients and George Washington University Hospital,” he says, are the best part of his work.

His shifts can last 12 hours, during which he may tend to 15 or more patients. He recommends regular exercise, “such as walking, running, swimming” to maintain one’s wellness.

“Nursing is dedication,” Gerry says. If there is one thing he wants people to know, patients and staff alike, it’s this: “I am here for you, how can I be of help?”

Laverne Plater – Department of Behavioral Health


Lavern Plater 2021 Headshot

“We work hard” as nurses, says 30-year veteran Laverne. “The general public doesn’t understand how challenging the working conditions can be.” That’s something the TV medical dramas just don’t get right, she says.

Still, her smile, willingness to help, listen, pay attention to details and show compassion get her through the day, she says.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” Laverne recalls. “It began at an early age at home caring for an older family member.” After studying at the University of the District of Columbia, Laverne, who lives in Washington, was hired as a staff nurse at D.C. General Hospital. “Nursing is rewarding.”

The best part for Laverne? “Educating and teaching nurses how to be better and committing to patient advocacy, always.

“Compassion and resilience,” she adds, are the hallmarks of a good nurse.

Yolanda Flores – VAMHCS

Hepatitis C clinic coordinator, ID case manager, RN,BSN

Yolanda Flores 2021 Headshot

Yolanda shines. “I let my personality shine at work when I feel and express empathy for my patients, family and colleagues,” she says. “I shine when I do what I should do as a nurse and as an employee…when I  provide a better service…when I go the extra mile to fulfill the needs of my patients.

“I shine when I am allowed to develop and implement new Ideas to improve customer service and patient satisfaction,” she continues. “I shine when I collaborate with the team to have a positive environment  for the patients, family and staff.”

There are certainly challenges, especially during the pandemic. “We can’t smile to the patient due to the face mask. We can’t hold the patient’s hand,” Yolanda says. “I miss the human touch.”

Yolanda, who lives in Pikesville, Md., has been a nurse for 39 years. She studied at Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, P.R., and Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Her first role in nursing was in 1982 at the Regional Hospital in Caguas, P.R. “At that time, all nurses had to work for one year in a public institution,” she recounts. “As a new nurse, I had the opportunity to work in different units such as medicine, OB-GYN, emergency room, surgery, OR and pediatric. After the rotation period ended, I decided to work in the pediatric unit.

“I had an aunt that was a nurse,” Yolanda says. In fact, her aunt was the nurse supervisor for the pediatric unit. “I admired her love and care for the family and wanted to be like her. As I grew up, I realized that I wanted to be productive and serve the society,” she says. “Nursing gave me the opportunity to serve and care.”

Yolanda says the best part about her current role is that she is able to provide treatment that can cure hepatitis C. “Hepatitis C is a chronic disease that for years was very difficult to treat and cure,” she points out.

“I feel so happy when patients are cured.”

Shelby Sprouse – MedStar Washington Hospital Center


Shelby Sprouse 2021 Headshot

Shelby began her career on a medical surgical unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where patients come from all over the world, she says. “I love hearing their stories because they all have had different experiences in life, different cultures and backgrounds.”

It isn’t always easy, she adds, “and the pandemic has made things harder. As nurses, we have always been a support to our patients, but now with our no-visitors policy we have been our patients’ only support. It’s not easy on the patient or the nurse, but I have enjoyed being there for them, to make their stay comforting and enjoyable.

“I’m an empathetic and patient listener,” Shelby continues, “which helps with conflict resolution in difficult situations. Because of this, I often help bridge the gap between patients and other nurses.”

Shelby, who lives in Sterling, Va., studied at Radford University. She has been in the profession for six years.

“I always found medicine and health care fascinating,” she recalls. “My high school had a nursing assistant program which allowed me to become a CNA, and my nursing career began.”

Her career continues where it began. “I am still working there because MedStar is a wonderful hospital. I love my unit and coworkers. We have a wonderful family atmosphere that makes me feel like I’m at home.”

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