2020 Excellence in Nursing Awards

In this, our sixth Excellence in Nursing Awards, we applaud thirteen incredible nursing professionals who stand on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

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A lot has been said about the year 2020, much of it bad, some of it downright ugly. But there have been good words on the street, too, including firsthand accounts of how frontline workers have stepped up to care for the community when it needed it most. Chances are, you’ve heard an inspiring story or two about Rhode Island’s very own nurses. Although all heroic caregivers in this field deserve praise for the work they’ve done (and continue to do) this year, Rhode Island Monthly and the Rhode Island State Nurses Association are especially eager to applaud the efforts of our 2020 Excellence in Nursing Awards recipients. As nominated by their fellow nurses, the following thirteen honorees do their profession proud, exemplifying courage, dedication and compassion in times of COVID and beyond.

Our judge:
Irene Eaton, RN, MSN, past president of American Nurses Association–Maine.

Edited by Kairlyn Murray

Clinical Practice Nurse of the Year

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Ashley McAuslin, RN, BSN, CEN
Emergency Department Registered Nurse and Emergency Department Patient Safety Officer at the Miriam Hospital

How did you get into nursing?
As a teenager, I babysat for my CCD teacher and his wife, who was a NICU nurse. After some conversations about what she did for a living, I decided a career in nursing would be something I would like to do as well. Later, during my senior year of college, I started at the Miriam Hospital as a clinical nurse intern. I applied for the emergency department because it always interested me. When I graduated, I was lucky enough to be offered a job in the department and I started as a new grad nurse.

Tell us about your nursing mentor.
My manager, Denise Brennan, has guided me through my nursing career. She always inspires me to grow and has given me countless opportunities to do so. She is a great leader who encourages you to succeed.

Tell us about a career highlight.
The accomplishment that I am most proud of in my career is receiving the Daisy Nurse Leader award. This award recognizes the qualities inherent in nursing leaders who create an environment where extraordinary and compassionate nursing practice may flourish. I was nominated by a fellow nurse for “creating an environment of safety for the emergency department staff and all patients.” She noted I was “trustworthy, compassionate and always approachable with any questions or staff needs.” I was so shocked to receive this award. When I read the nomination letter, I was so humbled and appreciative that a co-worker felt this way about my work ethic.

What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical practice nurse?
Know that nursing can be physically and mentally challenging, but it is one of the most rewarding careers. Nursing keeps you humble; it makes you realize that life is short, and you should make the most of every day that you have.

What effect has COVID-19 had on you as a nurse?
At first, COVID-19 turned the emergency department from a bustling, non-stop atmosphere of controlled chaos into a ghost town. When Rhode Island was in full shutdown and the governor urged everyone to stay home, people listened. Only those who needed to be there came in. Our daily volume became eerily low and the fear of the unknown seeped into the staff. As a dual job holder, I used my patient safety role to create virtual outings on Zoom and provide an outlet for staff to get together to talk about their fears, anxiety and how COVID-19 was affecting their life at work and at home. Luckily, we haven’t seen the volume of dying COVID patients that other states have, but not knowing if it’s ever going to get that way is the hardest part.

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Licensed Practical Nurse of the Year

Charlotte Cosgrove

Charlotte Cosgrove, LPN
Staff Nurse at Saint Elizabeth Home

How did you get into nursing?
I was always someone who wanted to help others. I was first a CNA in a long-term care facility for many years and I always wanted to be able to do more for my residents. I worked hard to earn my LPN license and I love my work. You have to have a lot of patience when working with residents with dementia. Also, you can’t be too serious — you have to be able to see humor in situations. To make a resident smile and laugh gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I like being around people who need help, knowing that I can make them feel loved, safe and happy. Some residents don’t have families, so we are their families. It is a great privilege.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I work on a dementia unit, and I know that I am someone who can help residents feel cared for and safe. I also understand what it is like to have a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. My mom was a resident on the unit that I work on. I am so happy to help families know that that they are doing the right thing since I have also been through this difficult situation and know what it is like.

What advice would you give to an aspiring licensed practical nurse?
The key to it all is to take care of your patients the way you would want your loved ones to be taken care of.

What effect has COVID-19 had on you as a nurse?
The COVID-19 pandemic creates many more daily challenges for staff because family members are not able to be there in person to help with many of our residents who require a great deal of care and attention. The pandemic has taken a toll on residents — who are confused about what is happening — and frequently causes them to act out because of the change in our routine and environment. Another issue is that having staff wear masks can be frightening to confused residents, which only creates more stress for everyone involved.

Nominator buzz: “Charlotte advocates for residents every day, consistently going above and beyond to create a positive environment that optimizes wellness. She has a natural positivity and enthusiasm that is contagious and this extends to advocacy on behalf of residents whether advocating to CNAs, to the nurse manager or to families on behalf of residents.” — Joanne Fawcett Costello, Rhode Island College School of Nursing

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