Murfreesboro, TN native and Audiologist for Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (TVHS), Dr. Erika Knox, was awarded the National Veterans Health Administration Own the Moment Award in September 2023.
Knox has been working for the VA for nearly 17 years. She continues to choose the VA to live out her mother’s legacy, who dedicated her life to serving Veterans for nearly 37 years as a nurse at the exact hospital she works in today.
“I come into the clinic every day listening to incredible Veteran stories. Serving those who chose to sacrifice their lives and serve the nation is the biggest reward,” said Knox.
Knox was nominated for this prestigious award because of a particular interaction she had with one of her patients named Mr. Browning.
Knox met Browning in February 2015 for a cochlear implant candidacy evaluation. During his appointment, Browning expressed that he had suffered hearing loss since 1945 due to his deployment and time in the military.
His hearing loss made it nearly impossible for Browning to communicate with anyone, which led to him isolating himself. He wanted to know what could done since he was profoundly deaf.
During that appointment, the two could only communicate with a dry-erase board and a computer.
Two months after his consultation, Browning had a successful cochlear surgery and became Knox’s oldest cochlear implant patient at age 89.
From his first appointment with understanding zero percent of speech fast forwarding 12 months later, Browning passed with understanding 96% of speech.
Every six months, Browning had his routine audiology checkup. “As time passed, these appointments became less about programming the implant as his hearing was exemplary but became more about catching up and connecting”, Knox stated.
After some time, a newfound bond began to form. Browning started confiding in Knox about his son, who was battling cancer. In return, Knox was able to empathize and continued to share how her mother was battling breast cancer and suffered from a stroke.
Knox continued to share, “After that, we became the best of friends; my team and I would celebrate his birthday during his visits and would even buy him his favorite cake! We wanted to remind him how special and loved he was”.
Browning cherished these moments and documented these celebrations to show off to his friends and family back home. “This became our tradition, and it will always hold a special place in my heart,” Knox exclaims.
“To be honest, at first, Browning was apprehensive and wasn’t so keen on receiving care from me due to the color of my skin,” Knox said.
As their relationship grew and emotions were shared, previous barriers broke to create a solid foundation of trust. Knox states, “I love my job, it’s almost second nature to me. This story with Browning is just one moment out of the countless interactions I have with so many Veterans.”
She continues to say, “I own every moment. My goal is to not only take care of the patient clinically but to connect with them emotionally – that’s where it changes them”.
The national Own the Moment Award recognizes an employee or a team of employees who have gone above and beyond to “own the moment” with a Veteran or Veteran’s family, and Knox did just that.
Knox demonstrated all three Own the Moment guiding principles, which include connection and care, understanding and responding to Veteran needs and guiding the Veteran’s journey.
“I share my story not to boast, but to encourage other providers to own every moment with their patients and their families.” Knox explained.
Empowering VA employees to improve customer experience is enhanced by Own the Moment training. This training enables a cultural change to encourage employees to become more aware and empowered to “own the moment,” and to be intentional with every interaction they have with a Veteran.
Every employee can make the experience for the Veteran and their family members the best they can.
Own the Moment training covers the effectiveness, ease and emotion involved with Veteran customer interaction to help staff connect their personal motivation in working at the VA and how they consistently deliver the best experience for Veterans and their families.