Rhode Island's Top Nurses 2016

Twelve winners work in health care around the state.

Photography by Matthew Celeste/Blueflash Photography

(page 1 of 6)

What makes for a good nurse? Ask anyone in the healthcare world and they’ll tell you the following: Compassion. An inquiring mind. Perseverance. An unrelenting desire to help people. But what makes an excellent nurse? They’re the ones who hold your hand through the good and bad, who stay by your side well past their shifts end, who advocate for your best interests and who inspire others to follow in their footsteps. The twelve remarkable men and women featured in the following pages go above and beyond to not only make our state’s residents healthier, but also happier. Their hard work and dedication deserves a lifetime of acknowledgements, but, in the meantime, the least we can do is celebrate them as Rhode Island’s Top Nurses of 2016.

As many in the field can attest, nursing is a profession with boundless and unparallelled opportunities, whether you go on to work in a hospital, an assisted living facility, a classroom or a non-traditional setting. In order to make sure every niche was truly covered, Rhode Island Monthly and the Rhode Island State Nurses Association decided to increase this year’s number of nursing categories from eight to twelve. Once again, any and all nominations were reviewed and scored by a panel of out-of-state nursing professionals to ensure that no biases (we are a tiny state after all!) influenced the judgements. Here, the excellence in nursing recipients share some of their favorite patient experiences, advice for new nurses and reasons why they would never, and could never, consider doing anything else.

PANEL OF JUDGES: Judith Joy, RN, MSN, PhD, interim executive director of the New Hampshire Nurses Association; Christine Ryan, RN, MSN, executive director of the American Nurses Association-Vermont; and Irene Eaton, RN, MSN, immediate past president of the American Nurses Association-Maine.

Clinical Practice Nurse of the Year

Ryan Parker, BSN, RN

Clinical Manager of the Inpatient Rehab Unit, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence


How did you get into nursing? I was originally a psychology major but it wasn’t my thing. I come from a family of nurses. My mother, my sisters, my aunts — all nurses. I was hesitant at first but there were definitely draws to the nursing field; I enjoyed connecting with people. So I went for it and I’ve loved it ever since. I think it’s those relationships you have with different types of people. That’s the great thing about working at a hospital; it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your background is. I can work with the president, or I can work with Joe who lives on 39th street. I’ve always found that appealing.

How do you get through the more challenging aspects of your job? When I worked with cancer patients, they’d say, “how do you do it?” But you can have such an impact on this person’s life. At their worst moment that they’re going to go through, what can you do for them? That’s how I’ve always looked at it. Every time I meet a patient I say, “How can I make your experience better?” They appreciate it. And that’s what you have to realize and understand. I guess that’s my strength. Maybe not organization, but making people feel good. It’s nice to see that I can have an impact.

Have you ever struggled with the stereotype that nursing is a “woman’s job”? Never. The only problem I’ve ever had is sometimes little old ladies take issue with me taking them to the bathroom. Sure, my friends bust my chops but when you’re happy and you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t matter.

Do you have any go-to nursing stories? I have so many. Just yesterday this woman, who’s been in rehab for two months and has multiple terminal issues, found out I was nominated for these awards and it brightened her day. You have great stories that are fun and enjoyable, and then there are those where you were with a patient when they passed and you didn’t leave the family’s side for twelve hours. You’re with these people since day one. If you ask me about Mr. Smith or mister whoever, I’ll have a story for you. Each patient is special and every day is a story in a hospital. That’s what keeps me there.

Clinical Nurse Specialist of the Year

Tamara DeSousa, MSN, RN, CCNS

Post-Baccalaureate Nurse Residency/RN Transition to Practice Program Coordinator and Veterans Affairs
Learning Opportunity Residency Coordinator, Providence VA Medical Center, Providence


Tell us more about the programs that you run. I run three programs at the Providence VA Medical Center that prepare nurses to care for the unique needs of our Veterans. Our primary program, the post-baccalaureate nurse residency program, provides additional knowledge and skills to nurses who are coming right out of school. There’s only six slots in the program and there’s an extensive application process, but they get paid by the Federal Government’s Office of Academic Affiliations, with benefits, to train for a year. We’re lucky because we have an automatic pipeline to hire nurses to work in our facility. It’s nice, they really want to work for us and we really want them to work for us.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? I have always had a passion for working with new nurses. Even when I was a nurse I was the one who would train the newbie. It was something that I felt I had a gift for, that I could connect with someone and have them understand a little more easily. I had initially wanted to be a teacher so it was fitting. But I would have to say the most rewarding part is at the end of the year ceremony, when they realize just how much the program has provided them with and seeing them be so fulfilled by what they’ve accomplished.

Why should people consider nursing as a career path? The beauty of nursing is we encourage inquiry. One person can change practice and make a difference. It wasn’t like that when I first started in nursing. You did what you were told and you really didn’t question much. Now we encourage you to question all the time and investigate, “Is this the best possible way we can do this, or can we do it better?” The other piece is that opportunities in nursing are endless. For example, when you work for the VA, you don’t have to get a license to work in another state because it’s federal. You could get a job at the Hawaii VA or in the Caribbean. And there are so many different types of nurses. It’s amazing.

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