News & Politics

Recognizing Excellence in Washington Nurses

This year, we decided to give awards to the area's registered nurses who go beyond the call of duty to protect, preserve, and enhance the well-being of their patients and our community.

From left, clockwise: Helen Obidiran, Colonel Bruce Schoneboom, Heidi Maloni, Elizabeth Bradshaw, Stephen PerezInova, Deborah Thomas, Carol Ann Ryan, Jacqueline Schultz, Cathy Williams, Nancy Munro. Photographs by Christopher Leaman

The Washingtonian’s first Excellence in Nursing Awards honor registered nurses who go beyond the call of duty to protect, preserve, and enhance the well-being of their patients and our community. While many of the winners are hospital-based, thousands of outstanding nurses work in community-health programs. We salute all of those who do so much to make Washington a healthier place for all of us.

Elizabeth Bradshaw

Clinical-program coordinator for cardiac research
Children’s National Medical Center

Almost 5,000 US babies are born with some form of critical congenital heart defect (CCHD). Many die. Thanks to Elizabeth Bradshaw and her work with Dr. Gerard Martin, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National Medical Center, more will be diagnosed before they leave the newborn nursery.

The hearts of babies with CCHD have abnormalities that prevent normal blood flow. Bradshaw set up a protocol for testing all newborns with a noninvasive device that measures the oxygen in arterial blood. She tested her protocol in the Holy Cross Hospital nursery, training nurses to use the test and to educate families about it. The nurses easily adopted it, parents welcomed it, and the test identified CCHD early enough to save lives.

Bradshaw developed a tool kit for nurses that’s been distributed to community nurseries, associations, advocacy groups, pediatricians’ offices, delivery centers, and health departments. In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius endorsed adding the screening for CCHD to the routine testing all newborns receive. Says Bradshaw: “I love being able to affect positively a large population of infants and improve outcomes for them and their parents.”

Heidi Maloni

Nurse practitioner, neurology
Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center

For Heidi Maloni, the greatest challenge in nursing is helping people with multiple sclerosis live satisfying, productive lives. As national clinical nursing director for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence East, she does exactly that.

There are 25,000 vets in the VA system with MS, a disease that attacks the protective coating surrounding nerve fibers. MS is hard to diagnose and manage—for patients, families, and health-care providers. Constellations of symptoms can affect motor, sensory, and cognitive abilities. Some patients have symptom-free remissions, while others never do.

Maloni literally wrote the book on MS care for the VA and has trained more than 450 nurses in understanding the disease and the new drugs that can suppress its symptoms and even halt its progress. But the “cures” can be tough to take. “It takes a truly gifted nurse to get patients to stay on drugs that make them feel bad,” Maloni says. She often travels to other VA facilities but still makes time for home visits to vets in need of urgent clinical attention or separated by distance or disability from the DC hospital. Says Maloni: “When people go beyond clinic visits and are willing to accept help to live more successfully with MS, that gives me the greatest satisfaction.”

Nancy Munro

Senior acute-care nurse practitioner
Clinical Center National Institutes of Health

It’s good news and bad news: Patients in the intensive-care unit at the NIH Clinical Center are much sicker these days. The good part is that medical advances keep people alive longer. That means nurse practitioner Nancy Munro is treating patients who are undergoing complex medical protocols to treat their primary diseases—involving drugs that often suppress their ability to fight infections.

People come to NIH for the most cutting-edge care. “This is really a last chance,” Munro says. “Our challenge is to try to find improvements for their condition but balance the quality of life they have.”

Nurse practitioners have completed graduate-level education and have a much greater scope of practice than a traditional RN. Munro pioneered the role of acute-care nurse practitioner at Washington Hospital Center and at NIH, persuading physicians that nurse practitioners could care for patients with complex, life-threatening diseases. She shares her expertise as an instructor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. Says Munro: “My central mission is to develop nurses with the strength to help patients accept, live with, and ultimately survive with the disease.”

She’s also committed to changing the perception of nursing: “The public understands that we are caring. I want people to know that we are also very knowledgeable, to understand the training we go through.”

Helen Obidiran

National Rehabilitation Hospital

When Allison O’Reilly arrived at National Rehabilitation Hospital after suffering a stroke at age 49, she was in a “locked in” state—unable to move or speak and uncertain that she would recover. When nurse Helen Obidiran was assigned to her case, O’Reilly could only blink her eyes. Obidiran “made me feel that I was her only patient,” O’Reilly recalls. “I was in the hospital for four months, so I really embraced her love and support. She made being away from my husband and being scared a bit more tolerable.”

With Obidiran’s encouragement and O’Reilly’s determination, O’Reilly walked out the door of NRH. She still comes back for therapy, and she nominated her nurse for this award. “She was a blessing to me,” O’Reilly says.

Obidiran grew up in Nigeria, where she studied nursing. In high school, she was a prefect, did first aid, and discovered that she loved helping people. “The most satisfying thing,” she says, “is when you see people who are really sick, and then you see them doing things they could not do before.”

Stephen Perez

Nurse practitioner
Inova Health System, Juniper Program for HIV/AIDS

Every pregnant woman with HIV/AIDS treated by nurse practitioner Stephen Perez and his Inova Juniper team has given birth to a healthy baby free of HIV. This 100-percent success rate is only one measure of Perez’s efforts to see that HIV/AIDS patients, most of whom are poor and either uninsured or under-insured, get high-quality medical care.

Perez doesn’t give up on patients, even when they give up on themselves. One woman was discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” A crack addict who received no treatment for her HIV, she was too weak from malnourishment to come to the Juniper Program. So Perez visited the nursing home where she was staying to treat her and kept in contact with her daughter because he knew that family support greatly improves a patient’s chances of getting well. That patient is now drug-free, seeing a substance-abuse counselor, maintaining a healthy weight, and thriving.

Each semester, Perez mentors a Georgetown University nurse-practitioner student. He also briefs physicians and other health-care professionals on topics related to HIV/AIDS and public health. As a fellow at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, he worked with the Department of Health and Human Services on, a Web site to promote HIV testing and care for those most at risk for the disease. But it’s direct patient care that drives Perez: “It’s probably two-thirds human interaction and one-third medical intervention. In a lot of cases, they’re at a point where they feel there is nowhere to turn. We help them get through the difficult times and come out the other side.”

Carol Ann Ryan

Clinical manager, Parenting and Lactation Services
Georgetown University Hospital

When Carol Ann Ryan had a baby in 1969, she was told to go to the hospital’s nursery to breastfeed so she wouldn’t embarrass her roommate. She also was pressed into service to help another mother in the maternity ward—lactation consultants were scarce in those days. Ryan was a nurse, but her obstetrical training had included only a vague instruction to “encourage the breastfeeding girls.”

Today she supervises a staff of 19 at Georgetown who have provided breastfeeding support for thousands of women, infants, and families. Ryan’s efforts have aided vulnerable babies in the neonatal intensive-care unit as well as sick mothers in the adult ICU. She worked in one of the original human-milk banks and has volunteered to teach prenatal education to pregnant high-school students.

Ryan has written book chapters on the health benefits of breastfeeding, such as the lifetime protection against chronic disease for mother and child. Her passion is infectious—she champions baby-friendly workplaces and is available 24/7 to mothers who need help.

By the early ’70s, breastfeeding reached an all-time low in the US as more women entered the workforce. Baby-friendly workplaces were scarce, and research on the health benefits wasn’t stressed by medical professionals. What’s more, Ryan says, breastfeeding is often hard for new mothers: “It’s a learned art. Hopefully, when these mothers have girl babies, they’ll be so excited about breastfeeding that they’ll pass it on. The boys will grow up to support their breastfeeding partners.”

Colonel Bruce Schoneboom

Nurse anesthetist
US Army Nurse Corps

His mother was a nurse, his father an Army medic. Bruce Schoneboom found the best of both worlds in the US Army Nurse Corps. For 26 years, whether serving in a field hospital in Afghanistan or as associate dean for academic affairs at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences Graduate School of Nursing in Bethesda, Schoneboom has inspired others with his dedication and his desire to invest in the country he loves.

Recently when he was deployed in Afghanistan, a small boy was brought to the field hospital. The child suffered from a painful blood disease common in the Middle East, was malnourished, and had an enlarged spleen. At four years old, he weighed 22 pounds. The child needed surgery, but the surgical team was reluctant to treat such a risky patient with the limited resources and less-than-ideal conditions under which a field hospital operates.

“He stole my heart,” says Schoneboom, who took command and personally administered the anesthesia. Afterward, the boy showed an unusual fondness for Popsicles, and his nurse-anesthetist was happy to supply them.

Schoneboom has been awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Bronze Star, and numerous other honors. He’ll assume a command post this spring at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground—an unusual distinction for an Army nurse. “What I find the most rewarding is working with junior officers,” Schoneboom says. “One of the things I tell people about leadership: Folks don’t work for me as a leader. I work for them to make sure they have the tools they need to do their job.”

Jacqueline Schultz

Executive vice president and chief operating officer
Suburban Hospital/Johns Hopkins Medicine

A nurse in the executive suite.

Jacqueline Schultz’s appointment to head of Suburban Hospital is testament to the medical community’s growing recognition of the strengths that a nursing background brings to medical decision-making. As chief operating officer at Suburban—now part of Johns Hopkins Medicine—Schultz oversees all hospital areas, both clinical and nonclinical, including quality-control and safety operations and community health-and-wellness programs.

Nursing wasn’t her childhood dream. Schultz wanted to be a singer and studied music and theater until she realized that a stage career might not pay the bills. So she moved to plan B, pursuing her interest in science at Cornell’s nursing baccalaureate program. Schultz came to Suburban as chief nursing officer in 2005 and has played a key role in helping the hospital make the transition from an independent community facility to a partner of a major health powerhouse.

Her personal transition from nursing to medical management was natural, she believes: “The complexities of care in hospitals today are such that heading up an inpatient unit is almost like being a CEO running a business. But if you come from the background of being a nurse, the patient is priority number one.”

Deborah Thomas

Diabetes educator
Howard University Hospital

When Howard University Hospital nurse Deborah Thomas applied to be the hospital’s diabetes educator more than 20 years ago, she didn’t realize how much of her on-the-job training she’d have to do herself.

The diabetes epidemic and the growing number of children affected was still not widely appreciated. Thomas started a support group for parents of children with the disease. Her efforts expanded to link to community groups working with kids and families at risk for diabetes. These children needed technology and advocacy to manage their illness and optimize their health, Thomas says.

She also had to develop teaching tools geared to diabetes patients from different cultural backgrounds so that the life changes they needed to make would work for them. She had to train nurses, too—Thomas has become a primary resource in the hospital for complicated cases and a one-woman diabetic coaching squad for hospital staff seeking optimal health while living with the disease.

A DC native, Thomas was inspired to become a nurse by the Cherry Ames series of children’s novels about the profession by Helen Wells. Diabetes education is her passion: “To teach people that they have control and can take care of themselves is what keeps me in nursing.”

Cathy Williams

Intensive-care nurse
Inova Loudoun Hospital

Working in an ICU with the sickest patients, nurses have to rely on one another, according to Inova Loudoun Hospital’s Cathy Williams. Her fellow ICU nurses say there’s nobody better to rely on than Williams herself.

She was the primary nurse for a teenage boy with terminal cancer. He arrived in the ICU after a weekend outing had given the family hope that he had rallied. But his condition worsened drastically. Williams had to care for both the anxious, frightened patient and his inconsolable mother—calling on all of the hospital’s resources to keep the boy safe and the family supported. “This was one of the most painful deaths to watch, but Cathy never allowed the family to see the toll it took on her,” says her colleague Mildred O’Meara-Lett. “When she left that day, she left as a quiet example of what makes a great nurse.”

Williams works to improve care throughout Inova Loudoun. She has chaired the Unit Practice Council, served on the SWAT (skin and wounds) team for three years, helped design a new protocol for patients in alcohol withdrawal, and organized Scrubs for Haiti at the hospital to donate hundreds of scrubs to medical teams working in that beleaguered country.

“If you have the right people around you,” Williams says, “there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish.”

Next: More Nurses Who Shine

More Nurses Who Shine

Congratulations to these nurses who also do exceptional work.

Jean Farley
Nurse educator
HSC Pediatric Center, Northeast DC

Miriam Halimi
Director, Clinical Informatics
Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring

Ann Marie Madden
Associate vice president for MedStar
Heart Institute at Washington Hospital Center, Northwest DC

Wayne Neal
Manager of patient/family education
Children’s National Medical Center, Northwest DC

Susan Ohnmacht
Associate chief nursing officer and director of critical care
Sibley Memorial Hospital, Northwest DC

Kathy Schaaf
Birth adviser
Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Rockville

Paola Vietoris
Pediatric intensive-care nurse
Georgetown University Hospital, Northwest DC

Solanges Vivens
Chairman and CEO
VMT Long Term Care Management, Northwest DC

Excellence in Nursing Awards selection committee: Marla Weston, PhD, RN, American Nurses Association CEO; Karen Drenkard, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, American Nurses Credentialing Center executive director; Amy Garcia, MSN, RN, CAE, American Nurses Association chief programs officer.

This article appears in the December 2011 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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