7 Nurses at Rush Named Emerging Nurse Leaders

Among this year’s 40 under 40 chosen by the Illinois Nurses Foundation
Rush 40 Under 40 Nurses 2021

The Illinois Nurses Foundation recently chose seven nurses and nursing faculty members at Rush University Medical Center as recipients of the organization’s annual 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leaders Award. The award highlights and celebrates young nurse leaders who are making an impact on health care and the nursing profession today and who will shape the future of the profession.

The Illinois Nurses Foundation will hold a virtual celebration of this year’s emerging nurse leaders on Sept. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. There is no fee to register for the event. 

The following Rush nurses were honored. 

Mallory Bejster, DNP, RN, Assistant Professor, Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing, Rush University College of Nursing

In addition to teaching public health nursing, health promotion, and policy courses at the graduate and doctoral level, Bejster is a leader in local public efforts: She serves as a co-chair of the Live Well Lake County Community Eat Well Action Team and has been a member of the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center’s Governing Council since 2015. She also has been funded by the Avon Foundation for Women to implement a peer educator program focused on building healthy relationships and preventing and addressing intimate partner violence among college students. In addition, Bejster is a member of the Association of Prevention Teaching and Research, serving on the planning committee for the association’s 2021 conference, and of the Association of Public Health Nurses, chairing the Public Policy Committee since 2019.

Joi Henry, MSN, RN, CNL, Community Health Nurse, Rush Day School
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Henry helped lead the transition from in-person to virtual learning for students of the Rush Day School, which provides education and treatment for children five to 15 years old who have autism and emotional disabilities. She also made home visits to ensure the well-being of her students. A participant in the American Nurses Association’s prestigious Minority Fellowship Program, she was selected to co-present this year’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) closing keynote at the program’s virtual annual meeting. Most recently, Henry has been spearheading an initiative to integrate mental health care in a respite center for individuals with COVID-19 who are homeless. She will complete the College of Nursing’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (DNP) program in the fall and plans to pursue clinical practice working with youth in the juvenile justice system.    

Sarah Innocenti, MSN, RN, CDCES, CNL, Inpatient Diabetes Educator, Department of Professional Nursing Practice

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of inpatients requiring diabetes education more than doubled. Innocenti — a Rush nurse and member of the Medical Center’s hypoglycemia task force — stepped up to fulfill this need. Quickly acclimating to a new role with a steep learning curve, she joined multiple committees, picked up shifts on short-staffed units and promoted system changes that significantly reduced hypoglycemia. Working with many patients who had to choose between paying rent, purchasing food or buying medications, Innocenti identified savings programs, vouchers, and no-cost insulin supplies made available through a COVID-19 relief fund. She also assisted the inpatient glucose telemetry team, who use continuous glucose monitors, to reduce staff risk of exposure to COVID-19 by remotely monitoring patients’ glucose levels.

Kimberly Ramos, MSN, RN, MEDSURG-BC, NPD-BC, Education Quality Coordinator, Department of Professional Nursing Practice 

Ramos leads the Medical Center’s charge nurse class, improvement lab class, assistive personnel orientation and nurse apprentice program for minority nursing students, and she is the Division of Nursing representative for the Rush Learning Hub, a new learning management system. She was instrumental in converting the Department of Professional Nursing Practice’s (PNP) programs to virtual platforms in response to the pandemic, expertly using a combination of technologies including Zoom, NearPod, and PollEverywhere. She has been PNP’s lead in the launch of the learning hub, supporting the transition to the new system for more than 3,000 nursing staff, and a resource to other ancillary departments at the Medical Center as well. She is part of a nursing team that has received the prestigious Duke-Johnson & Johnson Nursing Leadership Fellowship.

Emily Salans, MS, MSN, RN, CEN, CPEN, CNL, Emergency Department, Rush Oak Park Hospital, and Instructor, Department of Adult Health and Gerontological Nursing, College of Nursing

A charge nurse in the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency department since 2017, Salans manages the unit functions while serving as a staff and patient advocate. She became an Illinois adult/adolescent sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in 2019 and currently serves as the SANE consultant on a community response team for Dominican University, where she developed and implemented a protocol for the health center to universally screen, treat and refer student survivors of sexual assault. Salans also serves on the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force. In her role as an instructor for the College of Nursing master's program, she collaborated with clinical faculty to develop alternative clinical opportunities for students to address gaps created by COVID-19.

Nicole Walkowiak, BSN, RN, CRRN, CWOCN, Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurse, Professional Nursing Practice

Walkowiak provides expert consultation to an average of 350 wound and ostomy patients per month, and she excels in managing complex fistula patients, which can be one of the most challenging aspects of her role. During the COVID-19 surge, she monitored, tracked and created guidelines for skin care and the prevention of pressure injuries in prone patients (i.e., patients lying on their stomachs to improve breathing). These guidelines contributed to the decrease in hospital-acquired pressure injuries among these patients. Walkowiak also is working with outpatient wound, ostomy, and continence nurses to ensure discharged patients’ ostomy needs were met, and collaborating with risk management to ensure best practices and safe patient care skin care. 

Kirsten Warner, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, CNEcl, CNL, CMSRN, Nursing Learning Lab Manager and Instructor, Department of Adult Health and Gerontological Nursing, College of Nursing

Warner is co-chair of the Rush Healing Garden Committee and collaborated with the Chicago Botanic Garden to develop the therapeutic garden at the Medical Center. As the first manager of the Nursing Learning Lab, she leads the lab faculty in developing student support programming. Warner also is the leader of a nursing team that has received the prestigious Duke-Johnson & Johnson Nursing Leadership Fellowship. As team lead, she guides her fellowship group’s work to standardize student capstone project processes and enhance collaboration among nursing faculty and project mentors. She is a member of the Nursing Quality Improvement Committee and co-founded the Diversity and Inclusion Communication Sub-Committee, which promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion in the College of Nursing. 

“The Rush nurses chosen for this year’s 40 Under 40 Emerging Nurse Leaders is another example of why the nursing profession looks to Rush nursing to advance the profession through excellence and innovation in practice, education, research and leadership. I congratulate the nurses selected for this well-deserved recognition and honor. I also thank them for their commitment to nursing excellence, to our students, and to the patients, families and communities that we have the privilege to serve. ” said Angelique Richard, PhD, RN, CENP, senior vice president of hospital operations for Rush University Medical Center and chief nursing officer for the Medical Center and Rush University System for Health.

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