Star Nurse Spotlights: Showing a little light, being transparent, holistically caring 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.
Tara Floyd – Children's National Hospital
MPH, BSN, RN, NE-BC
Tara and her identical twin were born prematurely, so she grew up hearing stories about nurses.
“It was a precarious situation,” Tara relates. “My mother remembers being told we had a 50 percent chance of survival. My parents were 18 and 20 at the time and this was an overwhelming experience for them. My dad remembers that every day the doctor would give them a detailed update; then, when the doctor left, they’d say to the nurse, ‘Okay, now can you explain all that?’ They really trusted the nurses. I always wanted to give back, to be part of someone’s story like that.”
Tara, who resides in Silver Spring, Md., has been a nurse for 20 years. She has studied at Berkshire Community College, University of Phoenix, Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Boston University. Her first nursing job was as a clinical nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y. “I'm from Maryland,” she says, “but I went to school in Massachusetts, and I applied to every NICU job within driving distance. I took the first one they offered me, and I was thrilled to have it. I had fantastic mentors there, and I remember and use everything those nurses taught me, to this day.”
Ever since, Tara has always tried to remind families how unbelievably resilient kids are. “These patients,” she points out, “spend months in a hospital. They leave here with hundreds of pages of medical history. You or I might never recover from the things that these kids go through; but they improve, they heal, they go home, they go to school, they make art, they play sports—they're astounding.
“It's not my job to take away someone’s hope,” she continues. “Families of sick children have been online, they've seen the statistics for whatever it is they're going through. They've already gone to dark places. I try to show them a little light.”
Tara says the best part of her job is implementing new technologies and treatments. “I’ve seen so many changes in this field; it's never the same day twice.” In some cases, she says, “We can save kids today we couldn’t ten years ago.”
The scope and pace at a pediatric hospital can be breathtaking, Tara says. “Definitely, during the pandemic, people are tired. We've had to come together to fix so many problems that we didn't even see coming, but the good part is we’ve always found a solution.” She cites an example from early in the pandemic. “There was a community need for us to care for some adult patients with severe cases of covid-19,” she recalls. “My team didn't blink. Education was completed, equipment was sourced, guidelines were written. And we took excellent care of those patients.”
“Nursing,” Tara concludes, “is beautiful. Saving lives—what's more beautiful than that?”
Stacey Trotman – Mercy Medical Center
DNP, RN, CMSRN, RN-BC, NE-BC
Stacey believes nursing called her. “Nursing was my calling from my childhood,” she says. “I joined Future Nurses of America through Girl Scouts. We spent time in long-term care facilities and I fell in love with helping people. From putting a band-aid on a ‘boo-boo’ to holding someone’s hand when they didn’t feel well–I was excited to help and be supportive.”
In her high school years, Stacey attended a magnet school with a health-care focus and earned her CNA by 16. She started working at a long-term care facility and after graduation moved on to nursing school at Community College of Baltimore County. Her first job was as a bedside nurse on a telemetry/intermediate care unit at University of Maryland Medical Center.
Stacey, who lives in Baltimore, describes her personal touch as “being transparent. I believe just being yourself is one of the most important parts of nursing and leadership.”
She adds that the best part of her leadership role as a nurse manager is the ability to influence nurses “in their own professional development through evidence-based practice, in turn allowing for positive impacts in patient outcomes.” Stacey also enjoys keeping up her bedside skills and taking assignments to work directly alongside her nurses and health-care team members.
“The most challenging part of my job,” Stacey says, “is not having enough time in the day. The pandemic has created additional challenges of ensuring my team has the resources, support and work-life balance necessary to stay healthy.”
But she is not one to let it get her down, because she follows her own advice when asked what people can do to improve their overall health.
“More optimism, less pessimism,” Stacey recommends.
Yolanda Hightower – Capital Caring Health
Covid has stolen something from Yolanda.
“The inability to hug a crying patient or family member,” she says, “is at times heartbreaking. I truly miss the personal contact. Sometimes it’s not what you say to a patient that makes their day, but what you do. Hugs, holding a hand, sitting with them for a few minutes so that they don’t feel alone are all things the pandemic has taken away from my personality related to my job.
“My personal touch is that of joy, laughter and compassion,” Yolanda continues. “I believe that the ability to place yourself in another person’s shoes, understand their current medical crisis and then help them see the joy in life in spite of their current situation, you have gained their trust and allowed them to see the humanistic side of nursing.
Yolanda has been a nurse for 19 years. She studied at Washtenaw (Mich.) Community College and lives in the District of Columbia.
“From my early teenage years,” Yolanda recalls, “I always felt that I had a strong calling and desire to serve others.” She adds, however, that she attempted to avoid the calling “for fear of being hurt and rejected. I overcame this negative emotion and have found the most rewarding career known to mankind.”
Her introduction to nursing occurred while in high school when she became employed as a nurse’s aid in a nursing home. Her first role as a registered nurse was in the emergency room at one of the busiest hospitals in Northwest Detroit, she says.
“I will always be a trauma nurse deep inside.”
However, Yolanda finds that home care and hospice clients have been the most fulfilling. “I am able to see the clients in their environment and get the opportunity to know them beyond their disease process.”
“Rewarding,” she concludes, in describing the field she loves.
Lt. Alainna Crotty – Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
MSN, APRN, AGCN-BC, NE-BC
For Alainna, nursing is “the ability to holistically care for people during vulnerable times.” And she should know.
“My family was in a horrific car accident when I was younger,” she recalls. “The care and compassion the pediatric intensive care unit nursing staff showed my family inspired me to be a nurse.”
Alainna, who has been a nurse for 11 years, studied at Ohio State and Johns Hopkins universities. Her first role in the profession was as a new graduate nurse at Georgetown University Hospital.
Now at Walter Reed, she relishes interacting with her team. “My colleagues are the best part of my job! As a clinical nurse specialist,” she says, “I get to collaborate with a multidisciplinary team to enhance the care provided at our organization.”
Alainna lets her personality shine on the job “by being honest.” And when it comes to her thoughts on things the general public doesn’t understand about nursing, she is also frank.
“People don’t understand how short-staffed most medical facilities are, how challenging the working conditions can be,” she says.
And, she adds, one other truth most people don’t understand “is how integral nurses are to overall patient health.”
Heather Hanes – Inova Fairfax West Infusion
BSN, RN, OCN
So often, future nurses are inspired by a personal experience to pursue the profession or a specialty within it. This is true of Heather.
“I went into oncology nursing ,” she says, “after seeing a family friend experience diagnosis and treatment of a brain tumor in their 6-month-old child.”
In her work, she tries to find common ground with each patient. “Especially if it’s Disney or Capitals hockey!” she says.
Heather has been a nurse for five years. She studied at Western Kentucky University and lives in Herndon, Va.
Among the challenges of oncology nursing is one that may seem obvious to many. “Losing patients after long battles with cancer,” Heather imparts. “Working in infusion means spending lots of time with patients, so it’s hard when they don’t win the battle against cancer.”
Despite the unavoidability of tears, Heather loves what she does. The best thing about her job? “Everything: my patients, coworkers—the field of nursing is amazing.”
Stephanie Garofalo – Inova Health Care System
Stephanie has been a nurse for eight years, following what might be called a career “misstep.”
“Prior to nursing,” she relates, “I was in management consulting. After six years, I felt like my career was missing something.” So she joined the world of compassionate and curious caregivers, earning her nursing degree at Marymount University.
Upon graduation, Stephanie, who lives in Alexandria, Va., was hired as a bedside nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus.
She says the biggest opportunity for nurses today is the numerous career paths in the profession. The general public, she believes, doesn't understand how integral nurses are to their patients’ overall health through the many roles nurses play.
The best part of Stephanie’s role? “Instilling hope in patients through research,” she says.
Andrew Riddle – MedStar Washington Hospital Center
MSN, RN, CCRN-K
After volunteering in a local emergency room to fulfill a pre-medical studies requirement, Andrew realized that the work he thought medical doctors did was actually done by the registered nurse.
“It was an honor to bear witness to and be educated on the work of the professional nurse,” Andrew says, “seeing firsthand the impact they have on the health and safety of our communities. It was then that I fell in love with my profession, and I remain inspired to continue this work with my colleagues.”
Andrew has been a nurse for 10 years and has degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and Drexel University. He lives in Washington. He began his first job while in nursing school as a patient care technician on an internal medicine and telemetry unit at VCU Health System’s main campus in Richmond. “It was an incredible learning experience,” he says, “allowing me to apply conceptually what I was learning in my nursing studies. I will never forget that incredible team who shaped the nurse I am today.”
As Director of Nursing Professional Development, today Andrew is the one shaping teams. “I have the privilege and honor of leading an educational program that supports the professional development of student nurses, nurse technicians, registered nurses and nurse leaders,” he says. “It brings me joy providing these professionals with the foundational and ongoing education needed to provide excellent patient care. I consistently ask myself if my programmatic support would meet the needs of a nursing professional caring for my own family or friends.
“Nurses are constantly present,” he continues, “assessing and coordinating the care of our patients and their loved ones; accompanying our patients to diagnostic testing/procedures; completing bedside interventions independently and in conjunction with the medical and interdisciplinary team; escalating when our patients are not receiving what they need; and doing that for as many as five and six patients at a time.”
Andrew recommends patients ask their nurses, “Why do you love nursing? This question constantly helps us refocus our passion and grounds us” in a profession that requires all to give time, energy and compassion, he says. “Nursing is bravery.”
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