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.

Nurse of the Year in a non-traditional setting

Denise Flores

Denise Flores, RN, CSNT, NCSN
Barrington District Head Nurse and School Nurse Teacher for the Barrington School Department

How did you get into school nursing?
I lived with my grandparents as an adolescent and often helped with my grandfather’s ailing health needs. Visiting nurses would come to do wound-care dressings and they taught me how to do them too so I could assist my grandmother. I was a bit squeamish, to be honest, but my love for my grandfather outweighed the discomfort. He also lost his vision from glaucoma, which was so difficult to witness, and I helped him with the challenges that he faced. He once said to me, “Denise, you would make a good nurse. Keep your grades up and you can get a scholarship to college someday.” I worked hard to make the National Honor Society and was fortunate to get scholarships to help with college. Once there, I decided to major in nursing. But I also always had a love for teaching. After years working in pediatrics, travel nursing and other departments in different states, I relocated back to Rhode Island when my daughter was born and began looking into becoming a school nurse to find a schedule that worked with being a young mom. It seemed the perfect blend, allowing me to be there for my family, pursue my original desire to be a teacher and use my pediatric nursing skills in a school setting.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Children are just wonderful little people with dynamic personalities all their own! They are inquisitive, innocent, very funny at times and are sponges ready to learn and absorb information. School nurses are in a unique and important position to teach children about staying healthy and forming healthy habits early. We take every opportunity to teach when a student is in our health office or we are in the classroom. The best part is knowing I can make a difference in a child’s or family’s life in a way that can continue to positively affect them long after they leave my school.

What do you wish more people knew about school nursing?
It is much more than ice packs and Band-aids. Our roles extend to not only managing acute and chronic medical conditions in the school setting, but also addressing mental/emotional and social health needs. School nurses communicate and collaborate with community health resources to ensure students get the care they need to address all areas of health. School nurses bridge health care and education, provide care coordination and advocate for quality, student-centered care to ensure individuals achieve their full potential.

What effect has COVID-19 had on you as a nurse?
The school nurses in my district have worked daily since schools shut down in March to learn all we can about SARS-CoV-2. As the liaison to district coordinators/lead nurses, I have coordinated monthly meetings with our state school nurse consultant to RIDOH for ongoing planning and communication with the lead nurses in RI school districts. During the school shut down, school nurses continued to work closely with all school staff to ensure students’ needs are met to be successful during these challenging times. This summer, I also have had an active role working in almost every facet of the planning process to ensure school facilities are safe for returning students. We have had to address mask wearing, handwashing protocols, cleaning and disinfecting and safe distancing protocols as well as ensuring our reentry plans are feasible and safe. School nurses will be the next frontline health care workers when we return to school. We are planning to ready our health offices to still address the health needs of the students we normally see with acute and chronic health issues — such as asthma, diabetes and severe food allergies — while ensuring precautions by setting up isolation rooms and using appropriate PPE protocols to address any possible COVID-19-infected students or staff, following guidance from RIDOH. We are working as public health nurses to ensure our communities remain healthy and minimize the spread of this virus.

Unsung Heroes Graphic

Clinical Nurse Educator of the Year

Lynn Dangelo

Lynn D’Angelo, DNP, RN, NEA-BC
Director of Professional Practice, Innovation and Magnet at the Miriam Hospital

How did you get into nursing?
When I was in kindergarten, I told everyone that I wanted to be a nurse. At age eleven, I had that dream confirmed when my younger sister was in the hospital for a couple of months. I was intrigued by the hospital setting and liked the role of the nurse in helping others. Ten years and one BSN later, I started my career as a pediatric nurse and I haven’t looked back.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
There is always something to learn, especially in nursing. As an educator, not only are nurses learning from me, but I am learning from them. That energizes me. I love the challenging yet rewarding responsibility to shape nurses’ practice and guide their professional development. It’s quite humbling to have the ability to affect patient care through influencing nurses in the classroom to deliver exceptional care.

Tell us about a career highlight.
Without a doubt, the day I received a call from a nursing colleague. We had worked together for four years and in that time I had mentored her as she transitioned to a leadership role. She called to tell me that after practicing nursing with a diploma for thirty years, she was enrolled in a BSN program. Sitting in the audience and watching her walk across the stage to receive her BSN was an incredibly proud moment and a reminder of why I do what I do.