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National Nursing Awards

VA nurses have been widely recognized for their instrumental work in initiating, developing, implementing, and monitoring the practices and policies that has made VA one of the world’s foremost authorities in patient safety and quality outcomes, evidenced by performance measures – an exceptional achievement by any assessment.

Secretary of VA's Awards for Excellence in Nursing & for Advancement in Nursing Programs

The VA Secretary's Awards in Nursing Excellence program, established in 1984, annually honors one Medical Center Director, Nurse Executive (NE), Registered Nurse (RN) in a staff nurse role and one in a non-staff nurse role, i.e. advanced practice nurse, nurse manager, instructor, etc., a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), and a Nursing Assistant (NA) actively engaged in the care of patients at a VA Medical Center (VAMC). The recipients' contributions to the care of patients in any VA health care setting are patient-driven and demonstrate such excellence as to merit recognition from peers. This award is given only once to an individual.

The Secretary's Awards consists of three major areas: Excellence in Nursing, Advancement of Nursing Programs by a Medical Center or Health Care System Director, and Advancement of Nursing Programs by a Medical Center or Health Care System Nurse Executive. The award categories for Medical Center or Health Care System Director and Medical Center or Health Care System Nurse Executive were added in 1993 and 2003, respectively. The Health Care Technician (HCT) was included in the Nursing Assistant award category in 2006.

2023 Secretary Of Veterans Affairs’ Awards For Excellence In Nursing And For The Advancement Of Nursing Programs Winners

Registered Nurse/Staff Role: Christian Briggs, VA Richmond Health Care System

Portrait of Christian Briggs.

After graduating with his registered nursing degree, Navy Veteran Christian Briggs was on active-duty deployment for two years before coming to VA. Mr. Briggs's contributions to the Richmond Healthcare System Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Unit reflect the knowledge and evidence-based practice he has acquired while caring for paralyzed patients with complex physical and emotional needs. Notably, Mr. Briggs helped reduce complications from Foley catheter insertion (CAUTI) by assisting in the creation of a task force. He identified the need for more accurate insertion and championed “four eyes” on the catheter during the procedure. Since this implementation, there have been zero instances of catheters not being fully inserted. He also used evidence-based practice to advocate the use of antimicrobial catheters to help decrease infections in patients with repeated urinary tract infections. His reputation for excellence in nursing and focusing on providing exceptional care stems from not only his reducing urinary catheter related infections, but his collaboration with colleagues to treat large chronic pressure injuries. This led to better wound healing and decreased readmission rates for Veterans with chronic wounds.

Registered Nurse/Expanded Role: Sonya Arnold, Bay Pines VA Health Care System

Portrait of Sonya Arnold.

Chief Sonya Arnold serves as the Geriatric Extended Care (GEC) Chief Nurse at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. She exemplifies expert nursing practice as evidenced by her vast knowledge of health-related topics in the population she serves, geriatrics. Nurse Arnold led the successful implementation of multiple nursing-driven Performance Improvement/Quality Improvement projects. When GEC implemented a PIP with the goal of reducing absent sick in-hospital (ASIH) Veterans related to pneumonia, Ms. Arnold guided the GEC team in trialing a new and innovative oral care product. This increased oral care compliance to greater than 90% while decreasing pneumonia cases to zero by the third quarter. As a direct result of her passion, dedication, and leadership, the Bay Pines Community Living Center went from a two-star quality rating to a five-star quality rating, the Caregiver Support program grew, the center went below the national fall average in falls with major injuries, and a total of 1,537 Veteran Functional Assessments and 932 Home Care Assessments were completed in 2022. These and her other numerous accomplishments have improved the lives of many Veterans and caregivers.

Licensed Practical Nurse: Krystle M. O'Shaughnessy, Manchester VA Health Care System

Portrait of Krystle M. O'Shaughnessy.

Krystle M. O'Shaughnessy serves as a Licensed Practical Nurse Telehealth Clinical Technician at the Manchester VA Health Care System. As the first contact with Veterans for the Home Telehealth program, she communicates directly to them the program requirements, ensuring they understand how to use the program for their health care benefits. As a direct result of her actions and her ability to connect with the Veterans she serves, she increased patient enrollment in Telehealth by 24%. Ms. O'Shaughnessy follows up directly with Veterans to educate them on the importance of using the program daily to self-manage the diseases they are monitored for. As the Unit Practice Council Chair, her expertise and stellar nursing knowledge led her to develop a COVID patient education program, leading to Veterans not needing urgent care or ER visits for COVID. In addition, her understanding and skills in metrics and reporting enabled her to develop the Home Telehealth Monthly Metric report for the Connected Care leadership. This work improved the NIC Enrollment metric and the Patient Satisfaction metric.

Health Care Technician: Kaelen Ferrazzo, Iowa City VA Health Care System

Portrait of Kaelen Ferrazzo.

As an Echo Sonographer, Kaelen Ferrazzo rose to the challenge of delivering seamless and stellar care to Veterans at the Iowa City VA Health Care System during a time of transition. When a vascular tech reduced their hours to part-time, Ms. Ferrazzo, who is also certified in vascular sonography, quickly stepped up and offered to provide those services. This allowed VA to provide both echo and vascular imaging, preventing service gaps. Her passion and dedication to providing seamless, Veteran-centered care led her to suggest several process improvements that have reduced scheduling issues and maximized access. After the retirement of the part-time tech, Ms. Ferrazzo's willingness to move to a full-time vascular sonography role ensured that Veteran's care continued to be timely without needing to be referred out to the community. She provides urgent and emergent vascular sonography scans to inpatient and emergency room Veterans. Ms. Ferrazzo always places the Veteran's needs first and often stays late to ensure that urgent scans are completed.

Advancement of Nursing Programs Nurse Executive: Carrie Hensley, Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Cente

Portrait of Carrie Hensley.

In her role as the Hershel "Woody" Williams VA Medical Center Associate Director for Patient Care Services, Carrie Hensley is the executive responsible for all nursing programs in the facility. During her tenure, the facility has remained in the top five nationally as a best place to work and has also been in the top five in overall quality. This combination of achievements is rarely seen in medical centers. Ms. Hensley is a dynamic leader and sets a high standard and example for others to follow. She has been part of the leadership team that instituted improvements in hospital mortality, led efforts to improve the patient experience, and established and achieved goals in recruitment and retention throughout the medical center, especially the nursing staff. Her work to ensure improvements in nursing hours per patient day resulted in not only more satisfied staff, but less patient incidents and better outcomes. Ms. Hensley is recognized locally and beyond as an experienced and accomplished leader who is routinely requested to be the nurse executive representative on VISN-level initiatives and key position selection panels.

Advancement of Nursing Programs Medical Center Director: Kevin M. Forrest, Manchester VA Health Care System

Portrait of Kevin M. Forrest.

As a Veteran who receives his care at VA, Kevin M. Forrest, Health Care System Director at the Manchester VA Health Care System, profoundly understands and appreciates the importance of receiving high-quality healthcare from every nurse throughout our organization. He is a transformational leader who radiates authenticity, integrity, and transparency as he provides continual support to ensure the success of evidence-based practice within the facility. Mr. Forest implemented the Referral Coordination Initiative to recapture community care to the medical center by improving the Veteran experience by offering high-quality care with quicker access times than provided in the community. This led to a 48% recapture rate of orthopedic care. His unwavering dedication and advocacy toward nursing personnel ensured nursing's input in clinical practice decisions and innovations, spurred the development of a rapid onboarding process for new nursing staff, and increased salaries for all nursing positions across the medical center. Mr. Forrest is also an ardent advocate for the professional development of staff, allocating funding for nursing programs that support nurse professional development and embracing the National scholarship program to support nursing staff.

Previous Years Winners

2022 Award Winners
2021 Award Winners
2020 Award Winners
2019 Award Winners
2018 Award Winners
2017 Award Winners
2016 Award Winners
2015 Award Winners
2014 Award Winners
2013 Award Winners 
2012 Award Winners