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News | May 16, 2024

Walter Reed Nurses Honor the Past and Forge the Future during Nurses Week

By James Black, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center celebrated its nurses, most of whom have intimately touched the lives of patients at the iconic medical center, during an awards program in Clark Auditorium at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland, May 8, 2024.

The program was part of Walter Reed’s weeklong celebration of Nurses Week, annually observed May 6-12, coinciding with the birthday of Florence Nightingale.

Often credited as the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale, born May 12, 1820, revolutionized patient care through her emphasis on sanitation and the training of nurses. She established the first secular nursing school in 1860 in London. Also called “The Lady with the Lamp,” Nightingale provided care to wounded soldiers at night carrying lantern, during the Crimean War.

The history of nursing in the U.S. military dates to the Revolutionary War. The nurses often worked for little or no pay under deplorable conditions, without rank or recognition, said retired U.S. Army Maj. (Dr.) Margaret C. Wilmoth, the guest speaker during the Walter Reed program saluted nurses.

Wilmoth is a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she focuses on health equity for military affiliated individuals and educational equity for the military child. In her final military assignment, Wilmoth served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

During her remarks, Wilmoth encouraged nurses to forge the future by recognizing unique opportunities to grow their skill sets and become stakeholders at the highest levels. Also, during the program, the Walter Reed nursing team recognized some of its members with awards.

Nurse Leadership Award: Michele Makutchang

Michele Makutchang, an assistant service chief of 4 Center, received the Nurse Leadership Award in recognition of her stellar support and service to new nurses and staff. Makutchang’s managers credited her with building a foundation of stewardship and mentorship, successfully guiding Sailors, Soldiers and junior civilian partners to pursue higher education and military commissioning opportunities.

Nurse Innovator Award: Marie Miranda

Marie Miranda received the Nurse Innovator Award for successfully managing four outpatient pediatric clinics. Miranda’s managers recognized her for providing guidance and assisting stakeholders in crafting standard operating procedures (SOPs), citing her ability in answering questions posed by nurses at other military treatment facilities (MTFs) across the Military Health System (MHS). The Defense Health Agency (DHA) recently contacted Miranda, seeking her expertise for a pilot program involving four MFTs.

Paraprofessional Nightingale Award: Holistic Nurse Navy Hospital Corpsman Jennifer Perez Gastelum

Hospital Corpsman Jennifer Perez Gastelum works in the Adolescent & Young Adult Medicine Clinic, where her managers credit her for alerting staff if a patient seems especially anxious or depressed. Walter Reed is Gastelum’s first duty station, and this is her first position in pediatrics. Gastelum also volunteered her time to work with Walter Reed’s pediatric residents in speaking with teenage girls in the community at an after-school program about medicine.

Registered Nurse (RN) Nightingale Award: RN Ericka West

Ericka West has worked as a stem cell transplant coordinator for the Department of Defense (DOD) for nearly 20 years. Walter Reed is one of only two Stem Cell Transport Programs in the DOD community. Her managers credit West with keeping Walter Reed’s program alive and accredited by the Foundation of Cellular Therapy.

“We care for very sick patients needing high doses of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, which are high-risk procedures, and the process can be a lot to handle for our patients,” said Mia Johnson in reading West’s tribute.

West often begins her early morning shifts by bringing her patients citrus fruit to prevent the nausea often associated with stem cell transplants. Senior leaders credit West with fostering bonds with her patients, many with refractory lymphoma, multiple myeloma, or testicular cancer.

Her leadership paved the way for Walter Reed in maintaining its membership in the Centers for International Blood Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) registry.

DAISY Award: Registered Nurse Carolyn Benloss

Carolyn Benloss, a nurse in 5 East, was nominated by a staffer for her compassion in providing palliative care in bathing an elderly patient, changing her linens, and listening to the patient recount the highlights of her life. Near the end of shift, the patient embraced and thanked Benloss for her time and empathy. The patient passed away peacefully a few hours later.

DAISY Award: Clinical Nurse Dorit “DeeDee” Wodaege-Wells

A military family nominated clinical nurse Dorit Wodaege-Wells for the DAISY Award, appreciative of the medical care she provided to their son, born prematurely with a club foot and a debilitating skin condition.

“This nurse gave him a series of special baths that slowly diminished the rash until it completed disappeared. Our son was more than a patient to this nurse, [she] treated him like he was [her] child,” confided U.S. Air Force Reserve Maj. Alan G. Friedlander. “This nurse was the answer to our prayers, and I do not believe it was a coincidence that our paths crossed at this most critical moment in our lives.

“It’s an immense honor to help parents navigate their grief and incredibly rewarding and heartwarming when you can witness their little ones eventually hitting milestones,” shared Wodaege-Wells, a clinical nurse who works in Walter Reed’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Closing Ceremony

Following the award presentation, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Teresa Dent, the chief nursing officer for the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC), thanked all the award winners and nominees for their selfless service, and for creating a sense of community at Walter Reed in serving the nation’s heroes and their families.

“Nursing is an art; and, it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or cold marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit,” said Florence Nightingale. “It is one of the finest of arts.”
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