2018 Excellence in Nursing Awards

We honor fifteen of the state's best caretakers, as nominated by their colleagues.

Clinical Nurse Specialist of the Year


Photograph by James Jones

Katie Cherenzia, MSN, RN, ACCNS-AG, OCN
Clinical Nurse Specialist at Lifespan Cancer Institute / Rhode Island Hospital

What made you want to be an oncology nurse? I actually always thought I’d be a teacher like my mom, but then in high school I started volunteering at my local hospital and that’s where my interest began. I liked the idea of a profession where I could have an impact on people’s lives. I also never thought I would want to go into oncology. Prior to nursing school, I had lost three of my grandparents to cancer and that made me shy away from the specialty. But then I did one of my last clinicals at the Miriam Hospital Inpatient Unit, which was an oncology med/surg floor, and they had a position open when I was graduating. I thought it seemed like a great opportunity, and now, I wouldn’t trade this career for the world.

Tell us about the Lifespan Cancer Institute’s Sickle Cell Multidisciplinary Clinic. It started this past January and we’re currently treating more than 100 sickle cell disease patients. The main goal is to manage side effects while improving the patient’s quality of life, and our multidisciplinary team works directly with each patient to establish goals for the management of their disease. Being a part of this program has really shown me what being a clinical nurse specialist is all about; from working with the leadership team and physicians in the development and implementation, collaborating to provide comprehensive, specialized care and, of course, seeing the positive impact for the patients.

What’s the best part of your job? The patients. When we see them, they’re going through probably one of the worst times in their lives… It’s almost like you would give them a free pass if they were not nice after getting an awful diagnosis or while going through their third cycle of chemotherapy, but they come in and they’re so happy to see you and everyone on the health care team. They’re just so appreciative. They’re actually the ones who get me through my own bad days.

Nurse Practitioner of the Year


Photograph by James Jones

Kathy A. Rebeiro ANP, BC, AE-C
Nurse Practitioner at Primary Care Women’s Medicine Collaborative

What made you want to be a nurse practitioner? I knew right from grammar school that I wanted to be a nurse. It never changed throughout the years. I went for my bachelor’s in nursing in 1989, and then afterwards I worked in nursing and I also taught for a few years. One day, while at a conference, I met some nurse practitioners and heard them speak, and I decided to do a bit of research. I liked the autonomy that the role had, so I started looking into schools and I went for it. I’m glad I did because I’ve now been a nurse practitioner for sixteen years and I love it.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? Just being able to be at the forefront of helping others care for themselves. A lot of what nurse practitioners do involves teaching — disease prevention and health promotion are two of the models I go by. It’s all about helping people to live healthier lives. I also recently became a certified asthma educator, and that has been extremely fulfilling. When people come to you with respiratory issues, whether it be asthma or COPD, and you can help them to breathe easier? That’s as rewarding as it gets.

What do you wish more people knew about your role? I think nurse practitioners have been around for quite some time, but we still need to get the word out about what we do. We’re independent practitioners in the state of Rhode Island, and we give excellent patient care. Some of our responsibilities include diagnosing, treating, writing prescriptions and ordering tests, but continuity of care is the most important part — getting patients to actually follow through with tests and office visits. We’re really good at establishing great relationships and trust with our patients, and I think that often stems from that bedside-nurse-type mindset and training. I think my background as a nurse has definitely helped me be a better provider.

Nurse Anesthetist of the Year

Paul Carvalho, CRNA, BS, ADN
Chief of Nursing Anesthesia at Lifespan — The Miriam Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Newport Hospital

What made you want to be a nurse anesthetist? My baseball coach actually first told me that it was a good living and a stable job. So, I started worked in the hospitals as a dishwasher, then a transporter, then an orderly. During that time, I realized being a nurse anesthetist was really interesting, it was a huge responsibility and that it was a well-respected position. I was just drawn to it. And I’ll never forget when I was first accepted to anesthesia school — it was the best feeling. To be honest, I was lucky to get in at all because I was such an average student. But one doctor — Julius Migliori, the head of the anesthesia program at St Joseph’s at the time — took a chance on me. He then gave me hell for the first six months of school because he wanted me to do well. Now, I’ve been doing this for more than thirty years. I owe him so much.

What’s the best part of your job? It makes you appreciate your life. You see so many bad things, like sick children, everyday and it’s heart wrenching. But then you go home and you see your wife and your kids and they’re healthy and, no matter how bad of a day you’ve had, you think, “You know, my life is pretty darn good.” You never take anything for granted with a job like this.

Tell me about your team at Lifespan. If people think that I’m doing a good job as chief, it’s only because I have an amazing staff. For an operating room to function properly, it’s not just down to surgery or anesthesia; it’s also the orderlies, the nursing pre-op and the cleaning staff. It takes a huge collective effort to get everything to run smoothly. Many of them work crazy hours, going from Newport in the morning to the orthopedic center in the afternoon to Rhode Island Hospital at night — they work their butts off. Plus, we have gone through so many changes together with all of the integration of medicine, combination of the hospitals and the takeovers. I’m very fortunate to work with so many good, smart and hardworking people. I would never be where I am now if not for them.

Senior Student Nurse of the Year

Photograph by James Jones

Laura Ramirez
Nursing Student at Rhode Island College School of Nursing

Did you always know you wanted to be a nurse? I’ve always known that I liked caring for people. So, for high school, I went to Davies Career and Tech in Lincoln and I graduated as a Certified Nursing Assistant, which is basically someone who assists a Registered Nurse with patient care. I’ve also done a rotation in pharmacy tech at CVS. Now, this is my fifth year working as a Patient Service Representative and a Spanish Medical Interpreter at Thundermist Health Center in West Warwick, and I’m also a student at Rhode Island College’s School of Nursing — but I just have one semester left.

What’s next? I want to do community nursing. I took a community / public health class with Dr. Blanchette [you may recognize her from page 66!] and I thought, “Wow, this is amazing.” I love that you can make such an impact on people’s lives. My plan is to apply for a full-time position at Thundermist after I get my RN certification, but I’ve also considered working with infants at Women and Infants, or continuing my education and becoming a nurse practitioner. So, it all just depends on where I land. I’m excited to find out.

What advice would you give to people considering nursing as a career? The program is far from easy, and sometimes you just want to quit, but that’s when you have to push yourself. Never lose sight of your goal. If you give it your all, it’s going to pay off. Also, surround yourself with nursing friends; it’s great to have a support system of people you can study with and who understand what you’re going through. And I especially want to encourage other minorities. I know it was hard for me: I had to discover it on my own and I didn’t have much help. I didn’t even apply for scholarships until last year because I didn’t know I would qualify. But I went for it and my school granted me the Rhode Island Latino Dollars for Scholars award. So, don’t be afraid and just go for it. Explore your options and look into different resources — there’s so much out there.

Community Health / Home Health Nurse of the Year

Photograph by James Jones

Cheryl Gomes, RN, BSN
Director of Wellness at The Villa at St. Antoine

What made you want to be a homecare nurse? For me, it was always either nursing or teaching. One or the other. But my mother was a nurse, so I had an inkling of what it was going to be like, and I knew that it would let me take care of people and not have to sit behind a desk all day. As for my current role, I actually didn’t think I wanted to work with elderly patients in the beginning. But then I took a temporary assignment at St. Antoine twenty-nine years ago and I’ve been there ever since — so you could say I liked it!

What’s your favorite part of your job? We have a small Alzheimer’s unit and I love being able to help people in the community place someone that needs that kind of care. There’s not enough of it in Rhode Island, and it’s a big burden to care for someone twenty-four hours a day, so it’s nice being able to give people a good solution.

What advice would you give to people with aging parents? I find people don’t plan enough. I think families need to try and recognize issues before they become an emergency. Nowadays, families are scattered all over the country, and a lot of times children will come to visit for a holiday and think, “Mom’s not doing so well, she really shouldn’t be alone.” But you can’t just move into assisted living tomorrow. We’re apartments, so you have to find an available unit, you have to furnish it and the resident usually has to mentally prepare for the move as well. You have to let them see for themselves that it’s not a nursing home; there’s activities and they can make friends and have their own space — they just also have help 24/7 if they need it. So, check in as much and possible, try to keep on top of things and look into all of your options early.

Nominator Buzz

About our Licensed Practical Nurse of the Year, Jim Vigeant:
“Jim is an excellent patient advocate; he treats everyone with dignity and respect and he provides compassionate care to all.”
— Rose McClarnon, colleague

About our Nurse of the Year in a Non-Traditional Setting, Yvonne Heredia:
“Dr. Heredia has spent her career advocating for underrepresented populations especially in the area of maternal child health. She serves on several advisory committees and has developed policies to address issues related to prematurity and advocating for the social determinants of health.”
— Donna Huntley-Newby, colleague

About our Nurse Practitioner of the Year, Kathy Rebeiro:
“Kathy leads by example. Her compassion for patients and dedication to providing high-quality care is an example for all healthcare providers, not just those in the nursing profession.”
— Iris Tong, colleague

About our Certified Nurse Midwife of the Year, Michelle Palmer:
“Michelle brings a wealth of midwifery experience to women in the hospital and home setting. She truly offers a service that very few midwives in Rhode Island offer. Michelle teaches undergraduate nursing students about maternity care and receives high marks from the students. Over the past two years, she has brought URI undergraduate students to Indonesia and Central America for international/intercultural experiences. In spring 2018, Michelle was inducted as an esteemed ACNM fellow, which is a high honor.”
— Debra Erickson-Owens, colleague

About our Clinical Practice Nurse of the Year, Theodore “TJ” Sarrazin:
“What is unique about TJ is the way he cares for his patients and families. He is so kind and compassionate. He takes the time to know his patients. He communicates in a way that the patient and family can understand the “what” and “why.” He involves the patient and family as much as possible and strives to give them the best experience possible.”
— Patricia Bibeault, colleague