Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees
In a region known for world-class care, a career devoted to nursing in western Pennsylvania has never been more rewarding, challenging or packed with new opportunities. Meet Pittsburgh Magazine’s first-ever “Excellence in Nursing” honorees for 2016. Each may practice medicine in a different way, but they share one goal: to improve the quality of every life they touch.
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Nursing is not what it used to be.
The days of white-uniformed women acting solely as maintainers of comfort are far in the past. Nurses of all genders fill crucial roles in guiding the direction of health care in our city, region and nation as they collaborate with medical-community peers and develop new solutions to address patient needs. They fill varied roles within and far from traditional hospital settings while continuously mastering the latest technologies. As they take on higher levels of responsibility and accountability than ever before, they may be required to accomplish more with fewer resources in evolving health care systems. And still, since 2002, nursing has been chosen as the most trusted profession in an annual Gallup poll that ranks honesty and ethics in various professions nationally.
With its first-ever “Excellence in Nursing” awards, Pittsburgh Magazine is honoring the often-unsung local heroes of the western Pennsylvania medical community. To showcase the remarkable talent and diverse skills of the city’s extensive nursing population, a panel of regional nursing leaders, educators and administrators evaluated and selected these individuals for recognition of extraordinary work within the field.
photos by laura petrilla
The panel’s task was not an easy one, thanks to the sheer volume of nurses working in the region. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pennsylvania’s number of registered nurses — 136,080 in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available — is fifth-highest among U.S. states. Nurse-anesthetists, midwives and practitioners add nearly 7,000 more people to that total.
The greater Pittsburgh area — including Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties — is home to nearly one-quarter of the state’s nurses. That’s not surprising given the wide array of options available within the field. The region is home to 45 hospitals, including those operated by health care giants UPMC and Allegheny Health Network, as well as suburban hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and home health care operations.
Here, educators such as Carlow University’s Janice Nash are making sure new crops of students are prepared to face all of the challenges ahead in the field, while leaders such as Diane Hupp of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC work to recruit and retain the best possible talent. Anti-bullying expert Renee Thompson helps those working on the frontlines to navigate the pressures of high-stress environments. Advancing technology has led to new roles for nurses such as Sergey Blyakhor, who uses his background in information and technology to analyze data pertaining to patient care at Allegheny Health Network. Others, such as certified registered family nurse practitioner Darlene Ursiny, draw from their own history of battling health concerns to provide the most compassionate care possible.
All do the job they love with the goal of improving the quality of every life they touch, and for that, much recognition is deserved.
When she worked as a staff nurse, Janice Nash says she believed education was key to any patient’s positive outcome. She enjoyed teaching new nurses in her roles at the cardiology and medical surgical stepdown units at Allegheny General Hospital, then later at what was then Jefferson Regional Medical Center and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. Even more so, she loved providing patients with the necessary knowledge to continue their care at home and ensure their health needs were met in the most comprehensive manner possible.
“I believe the most difference is made when people know how to care for themselves once they’re home and how to focus on prevention,” says Nash, 53, of South Park Township.
Nash’s dedication to guiding future front-line nurses enables her to excel as an associate professor of nursing and academic advisor at Carlow University.
“I strongly believe in the education we are able to provide for our students,” says Nash. “Students are getting the jobs they want, and those who want to stay in Pittsburgh are able to do so. We are blessed to be in a location with both UPMC and Allegheny Health Network where they are able to get clinical practice at wonderful facilities. They get experience in everything from transplants to trauma. There are people coming from all over the region to get care here.”
As a teacher, Nash helps her students “to see beyond their shifts.” She challenges them to consider the bigger picture surrounding their patients — to ask questions about their family members and their needs. She asks them to think about what each patient will need to know upon discharge and how any experience can be made better.
Knowing that nurses have more responsibility today than ever, particularly in regard to technology and accountability, Nash encourages her students to consider all factors affecting their field, including politics and public policy. Her students have gone on to enjoy successful careers at local hospitals as well as Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“We love when they stay, but we love to see them recognized outside the area as well,” she says.
Nash was involved in Carlow’s transition from a college to a university in 2004, and she helped to organize its schools into their current designations. The nursing program now falls under the College of Health and Wellness, a name chosen to appeal to a broader range of students and encourage growth in health care-related majors. Nash also chaired the committee dedicated to revamping Carlow’s nursing curriculum three years ago in an attempt to improve continuity and consistency.
Nash has done work with the university’s Prepare to Care summer program, in which high school students stay on campus, tour local hospitals and hear speakers while exploring their interest in health care careers.
She also is focused on trends in nursing to ensure students are educated to meet future needs. In anticipation of a projected shortage of operating-room nurses, Carlow offered an internship program in the summer in partnership with Magee, UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore in which students could observe operating-room nursing firsthand. Students also accompany caregivers with Operation Safety Net, a program of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Trinity Health that provides health care for the city’s homeless population.
Joan Reale, a retired Carlow professor and Nash’s mentor, describes Nash as driven by curiosity and unafraid to tackle any topic related to the field.
“Janice is a wonderful woman,” Reale says. “She is always professional with students. She is warm, kind and knowledgeable. She is a very caring person who always demonstrates empathy when students come to her with problems.”