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Six Nurses Honored with Regional Awards at NightinGala for National Nurses Week


Six nurses from the Mid-South and Nashville were recognized with awards at the Sixth-Annual NightinGala, an event coordinated by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing. The NightinGala is held during National Nurses Week, which is May 6-12.

More than 200 people attended the event, held May 6 at the Hilton-Memphis. It is the first time in two years that the event has been held live, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurse Heroes were recognized with virtual awards programs in 2020 and 2021.

This year, four nurses were recognized as Nurse Heroes, and two nurses were honored with the John W. Runyan Jr. Community Nursing Award, which recognizes contributions to community or public health nursing. The Nurse Hero Awards recognize a Bedside Nurse Hero, a COVID-19 Community Nurse Hero, an Advanced Practice Nurse Hero, and a Nurse Leader Hero.

UTHSC College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP, presented the awards, along with Professor Sara Day, PhD, RN, FAAN, assistant dean of the college’s Center for Community and Global Partnerships. “Our communities need nurses now more than ever,” Dr. Likes said. “That is why it brings me such joy to recognize nurses who exemplify excellence in the profession. They are role models for all of us. They represent the best of nursing.”

Richard Avent

The Bedside Nurse Hero award honored Richard Avent, BSN, a second-career nurse who works on the oncology unit at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. Before attaining his nursing degree, Avent spent more than 20 years as a product development engineer of biomedical devices for Bayer Healthcare. As the Bedside Nurse Hero, Avent was recognized for the great compassion and respect he offers every patient, and for his willingness to go the extra mile for patients and other team members. He earned his BSN at the University of Memphis Loewenberg College of Nursing.

Gwendolyn Reese

The COVID-19 Community Nurse Hero Award recognized Gwendolyn K. Reese, MBA, BSN, RN, director of nursing services for Christ Community Health Services – the first facility in Shelby County to provide drive-through COVID-19 testing. The process for drive-through testing was developed under Reese’s leadership and was implemented at Christ Community and across Shelby County. Reese’s nursing career also includes many years of service at Regional One Health, where she held multiple leadership roles. She earned her MBA and BSN at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

Lynn Rodriguez

The Advanced Practice Nurse Hero Award honored the contributions of Lynn Rodriguez, MSN, PPCNP-BC, RN, a pediatric nurse practitioner who is manager of the surgery advanced practice providers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Her commitment to ensuring patients receive world-class care was highlighted. Rodriguez recently worked to coordinate care for multiple international surgical patients, overcoming many obstacles to enable the children to receive care at St. Jude. Rodriguez also serves as a leader and role model for the surgical and palliative care nurse practitioners and is a peer mentor for clinical providers. She earned her BSN at the UTHSC College of Nursing.

Belinda Mandrell

The Nurse Leader Hero Award also recognized the impact of a St. Jude nurse – Belinda Mandrell, PhD, RN, PNP, director of the division of nursing research at St. Jude. The award honors a nurse who empowers registered nurses in a health care setting and helps to implement organizational goals and strategies. Dr. Mandrell’s impact includes mentoring evidence-based practice (EBP) projects through the EBP Fellowship program and for the nurse residency program at St. Jude. She is also planning to institute a Global Nursing EBP Fellowship. Dr. Mandrell is chair of the New Knowledge pillar for St. Jude’s Magnet requirements. On the national level, she is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group Nursing Research Committee and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nursing. Dr. Mandrell earned her PhD in Nursing Science at UTHSC.

Christian Ketel

        The John W. Runyan Jr. Community Nursing Award recognized the efforts of two faculty members from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) this year. Associate Professor Christian Ketel, DNP, RN, FNAP, and Associate Professor Carrie Plummer, PhD, ANP-BC, were honored for their efforts in collaborating to establish and co-lead the Vanderbilt COVID-19 Mobile Vaccine Program. Since its inception, the mobile vaccine program has administered more than 15,000 vaccines to more than 6,500 people at events and through door-to-door canvassing.

Carrie Plummer

Dr. Ketel teaches primarily in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at VUSN. He also serves as the co-author and evaluator for three Nursing Workforce Recruitment and Retention programs. Along with his Vanderbilt duties, he is the co-director of the Meharry Vanderbilt Alliance Inter-Institutional and Interprofessional Student Program. Dr. Plummer teaches and directs the VUSN year-long Enhancement of Community and Population Health course for pre-licensure students. In addition to teaching, she co-coordinates VUSN participation in the university’s popular Vanderbilt Summer Academy for Talented Youth course, “Treating the Whole Person.” Dr. Plummer earned her PhD in Nursing Science at UTHSC.

Sponsors of the NightinGala include UTHSC, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and Regional One Health.