Excellence in Nursing Awards 2023

Meet this year's 16 outstanding nurses

Too often, nurses are the unsung heroes of the medical community. In fact, they are key members of any health care team, but their skills and contributions go unrecognized time and time again. As the world corrects back to normal following the pandemic, it is perhaps a bit more aware of the challenges nurses face, and the professionalism and compassion they demonstrate as they continue to provide the best possible care during yet another shifting season. 

New Hampshire Magazine, in partnership with the New Hampshire Nurses Association, is proud to be part of highlighting nurses’ important contributions and many talents with the sixth annual Excellence in Nursing Awards. This past winter, we accepted nominations for New Hampshire nurses in 16 vital specialties, from pediatrics and school nursing to leadership and education. The winners were selected by an independent committee of nursing leaders from adjoining states. Each nurse profiled in the following pages represents the very best in nursing — those who go above and beyond to comfort, heal and teach.

Kendaljbush5883hrEmily Knight / RN, BSN, CPAN, Post Anesthesia Care Unit, Registered Nurse

Medical Surgical Nursing
Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Dover 

As Emily Knight remembers, she had a tough time cracking the nursing field back in 1996. “I essentially groveled to get a job working nights on [Wentworth-Douglass Hospital’s (WDH)] medical surgery unit,” Knight says. After grinding out a year burning the midnight oil, and then bouncing around different hospital jobs — from patient care coordinator to interim nurse manager — she landed in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). Knight, as it were, had found her calling. “PACU nurses are leaders who have an amazing team to back them up,” she says. “A PACU nurse has to be strong and capable of standing up for what’s right for their patients. A fast critical thinker with the resiliency to return after a difficult case.”  

Working as a PACU RN for the last 27 years, Knight’s “worn many different hats,” as she says, educating physicians, working with state legislators, leading the charge as chair of several committees and — maybe most importantly to her — working in pediatrics. “Kids are resilient little humans with so much potential and so much innocence,” Knight says. She recalls aiding a toddler in PACU who needed urgent intubation — and while the child lived, they were “quite possibly the sickest I’ve ever seen.” That experience had a permanent impact on Knight. “I am thankful for that child every day,” she says. “They made me a better clinician, a better resource, fueled my passion beyond anything I could imagine, and they made me a better human.” Today, Knight works as the training center coordinator for WDH’s American Heart Association, on the board of directors for the state’s sudden youth death committee and on the planning committee for Camp Meridian, a program for kids with congenital cardiac diagnoses. Nearly 30 years later, and Knight’s as inspired as ever.

Kendaljbush3745hrDebra Hastings / PhD, RN, NPD-BC, CNOR(E), Nursing Professional Development and Joint Accreditation Director    

Clinical Nurse Educator (Large)
Dartmouth Health, Lebanon

Debra Hastings has had the great fortune of being mentored by many nurses throughout her career so that she can do the same for other nurses today.

“As a new nurse, I looked to those who were already experienced in their roles to help me develop my skills at the point of care,” Hastings says. “As a new member of the faculty in a baccalaureate program, I sought out colleagues who were seasoned nurse educators who introduced me to the role and responsibilities of an educator in both the clinical and classroom setting. My current colleagues at Dartmouth Health, my friends, my mentors, students, interprofessional colleagues and many of the patients I have had the opportunity to interact with have inspired me and continue to help me grow.” 

Through the years, she has been able to build on the foundation that her predecessors helped her create in her current role overseeing nursing professional development and joint accreditation at Dartmouth Health. She serves as the liaison with their affiliated schools of nursing, and she offers career counseling to nurses who are interested in returning to school and/or advancing their career. She also offers guidance to employees who are interested in entering the nursing profession.

One of her favorite parts of the job? Having conversations with people that lead to the start of their nursing career. “Sometimes, I don’t even remember the person or the conversation, but the fact that they reach out to share this with me just warms my heart,” Hastings says. “It helps me realize that the next generation of nurses need our guidance and mentoring, and if we offer that to them, there is a good chance they will succeed.”

Kendaljbush7057hrDonna M. Roe / DNP, APRN, BC, CEN, Gero-BC, Nurse Practitioner

Advance Practice RN
Rockingham County Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, Brentwood

It was Donna Roe’s family that led her into nursing.

“My mother was a nurse growing up, and I always wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, just like she was,” Roe says. “As a single mother of two young boys, I gave up my job in finance, went to college at night and began working days as a licensed nursing assistant at a hospital in Nashua, where I stayed for 24 years. After my brother battled substance abuse and lost his battle, I became committed to a life caring for the most vulnerable, including those with substance abuse disorders, psychiatric illnesses, older adults and those at the end of their lives.”

As a full-time skilled nursing facility nurse, her day-to-day responsibilities include addressing daily concerns by nursing staff, preoperative physicals, chronic care management, medication management, managing behavioral health, palliative care and end-of-life needs, as well as meeting with families and collaboration with other medical providers. “My background in emergency nursing is invaluable, as it helps to keep patients and residents from needing hospitalization,” she says, “which is less stressful for residents/patients and their families.”

Despite the rigorous demands of the job and tireless hours required, Roe strives to be like the nurses who inspired her to join the profession. “My former mentor, Pam Duchene, taught me that to be a nurse leader, you must never lose sight of the person you are caring for and to always strive to move the profession of nursing forward,” she says. “There also isn’t just one trait that is important for our profession — caring for this population takes several and includes compassion, empathy, critical thinking, communication, flexibility, competence and integrity.”  

Kendaljbush6198hrAnna Holland / BSN, RN-BC, Ambulatory Clinical Nurse Manager

Front Line-Administrative Nursing (Large)
Elliot Health Systems, Manchester 

Some people figure out what they want to do early in life. Anna Holland knew a medical career was in her future all the way back in high school, when she was president of her Health Occupations Students of America class. She went on to work as a medical assistant while in nursing school where she found a passion for primary care.  

“Primary care nursing is unique in that it gives you the opportunity to build special long-term relationships with patients while focusing on improving their health and managing acute and chronic conditions,” Holland says. Today, she provides support, oversight and guidance for nurses and medical assistants in internal medicine and family practice while still assisting patients in Londonderry, Windham and surrounding areas.  

As she says, primary care can be a lot to juggle and requires a special focus. “I think critical thinking skills are an important character trait for someone in primary care,” Holland says. “Every day brings a new challenge, and I think having an open mindset and being able to have confidence in your team are critical for success.” 

Working as a nurse manager has led Holland down new paths in her career. “Providing the best patient care remains, and will always be, my priority, but much of my focus is now on my team of clinical staff that I work with every day, ensuring they have the skills and tools they need to provide high-quality and safe patient care,” she says. “They are who inspire me every day, allowing me to share my knowledge, experience and passion for patient care while pushing them to be their best.”

Kendaljbush6944hrJanet Thomas / RN, MA, BS, Project Director

Nurse Innovator
NH Citizens Health Initiative, UNH Institute for Health Policy & Practice, Concord

“Innovation is often the introduction of small changes with adoption over time,” says Janet Thomas, project director at the NH Citizens Health Initiative. “It doesn’t have to be a huge project or big splash. Innovation is also often rejected at first. Patience and commitment — along with curiosity — are necessary to promote and achieve sustainable changes.” Thomas, of all people, would know. 

Working to bring “recent or innovative research into real-world practice” — which includes “designing tools that provide practical evidence-based actions for health care providers, teams and community partners” and “using various learning models, including Project ECHO, an expert-guided process improvement facilitation” — Thomas is passionate about making real change in people’s lives through innovation in the medical field. Getting her start at Lowell General Hospital before joining the Matthew Thornton Health Plan — the first staff model health maintenance organization in New Hampshire — Thomas has seen how those small changes have reverberated through our current state in health care. She hopes to continue pushing that forward with a curiosity for science, community and compassion. 

In the virtual, case-based learning model her team uses called Project ECHO, Thomas increases the cognizance of providers and organizations to treat patients with the most up-to-date methods. While incredibly gratified watching health care workers learn and integrate new techniques, she loves seeing the way people come together in the process. “If not more important than the learning is the community and trust that is developed through this model,” Thomas says. “Knowing even small changes can make a tremendous difference in one person’s life moves us forward.”

Despite the rigorous demands of the job and tireless hours required, Krestchmar is like the nurses who inspired her to join their profession.

“I think one of the most important character traits for someone in nursing is compassion and the ability to show empathy towards our patients,” she says.

Kendaljbush5595hrEllen M. Belter / RN, BSN, Nurse Supervisor

Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing
Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon 

Easing human suffering for those afflicted with mental illness drives Ellen M. Belter as a nurse supervisor in the outpatient psychiatry unit.   

Understanding how few nurses pursue this path, along with patients’ demands for care and compassion, gave Belter the resolve to enter this arena. She worked in a burn/trauma center in Colorado in 2015 and saw what can happen to people who don’t get the mental health services they need. Working for Dartmouth Health since November 2021, Belter believes outpatient psychiatric nurses need to be good listeners, display integrity when dealing with their patients and show resiliency to not allow patients’ suffering to prevent them from helping others. 

“Being present and actively listening with curiosity and empathy to discern what the patient really needs is helpful in navigating with and for the patient and providers toward resolve,” Belter says. “Oftentimes there’s no real cure, but treatment options that can increase the quality of a person’s life and capacity to cope. I think integrity about this enables the patient to approach treatment options realistically, resulting in better outcomes. It can be harrowing to see the magnitude of suffering people endure; integrating resiliency also allows the focus to be on what potential solutions are and assisting the patient toward them thereafter.”

Working with her outpatient psychiatric unit team gives Belter the support and encouragement she needs to perform her duties at a high level.

Kendaljbush5662hrKristie Foster / RN, BSN, Manager/Clinical Educator

Emergency Nursing
Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department, Lebanon 

“I wear many hats,” says Kristie Foster, manager/clinical educator at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED), and her responsibilities go beyond the day-to-day operations of the ED. “As a member of the education team, I work collaboratively to provide up-to-date instruction for current best practice in our hospital.”

Foster joined the Alice Peck Day ED in 2009. In 2021, she championed the geriatric ED accreditation project which led to the hospital’s successful post-ED follow-up program. “Conducting these calls have been overwhelmingly rewarding as we are able to connect our patients with the care needed in a timely manner,” Foster says. She recalls a follow-up call to an 80-year-old woman treated for non-traumatic back pain in the emergency department. The patient was given over-the-counter medication, a lidocaine patch and a referral to a pain clinic, but the patient’s pain became worse. Foster called the hospital’s multi-specialty clinic and got her an appointment later that day, and a pain clinic appointment that same week. “When I called the patient back, her husband asked, ‘Did you find a magic wand?’” Foster says. The patient cried with gratitude when she heard the news and told Foster, “‘I’m a retired nurse. I would have been so proud to work alongside you.’” 

“There are countless stories that I could share,” Foster says, “but this was the first one that made me realize how important this program was going to be to our community.”

Kendaljbush6073hrLaurie Flanders / RN, School Nurse 

Pediatric & School Nursing
The Birchtree Center, Portsmouth

School nurses have always played an important role in ensuring the health and safety of students and faculty. This task can be especially challenging when your student population is on the autism spectrum.  

Laurie Flanders has served students for three years at the Birchtree Center in Portsmouth, a year-round school that serves students with developmental disabilities from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Flanders, as school nurse, gives scheduled medications and first-aid treatments, along with training staff in CPR, first aid and health plan protocols required for each student. “I work closely with the students, parents and staff at Birchtree,” Flanders says. “No days are ever the same.”

Flanders explains that her journey to her current role did not follow a typical path. “I have been working in health care the majority of my life,” she says. “I became a CNA my junior year of high school through the school’s vocational program. I worked at a nursing home for eight years and became medication certified. I then worked as a medical assistant in a family practice for five years and an endocrinology office for seven years while taking classes toward my nursing degree. Along the way, I worked with some amazing nurses and doctors who have taught me so much.” 

When asked what inspires her to strive for excellence as a school nurse, Flanders says, “My husband and daughter along with all of the patients and students that I have crossed paths with over the years. I am a firm believer in, ‘Treat others as you wish to be treated.’” 

Kendaljbush4099hrLynda Martin-Heaney / RN, Coordinator of Education Programs and Clinical Development

Public Health Nursing
VNA of Manchester and Southern New Hampshire Home Health and Hospice, Manchester 

As the coordinator of education programs and clinical development, Lynda Martin-Heaney uses her expertise and commitment to help VNA of Manchester and Southern New Hampshire home health nurses to be at the top of their game, so every patient receives an equal dose of empathy and medical care. Martin-Heaney says that nursing was not her first career. “I worked in graphic design for most of my young adult years, along with side hustles in restaurant work and other odd jobs,” she says. “As I approached middle adulthood, I started to feel unfulfilled and disappointed by some of the values that drive the design industry. I wanted to do something more important and to make a difference in my community. My husband and family provided amazing encouragement and support throughout my transition to a career in nursing.”  

Martin-Heaney believes the most important attribute home health nurses can possess is empathy. “Each patient’s situation is different,” Martin-Heaney says. “The home is ground zero for each and every individual living in our community. If we show up in a meaningful way, provide skilled care and create a network of support for each individual patient — taking into account their own unique set of circumstances — we can help effect change, one patient at a time.”

Kendaljbush6252hrJennifer Torosian / RN, MSN, NEA-BC, Associate Chief Nursing Officer 

Senior Nursing Leader
Catholic Medical Center, Manchester

As the associate chief nursing officer at Catholic Medical Center, Jennifer Torosian wears many hats. “I’m responsible for nursing operations of several inpatient nursing departments as well as inpatient diabetes, Department of Education, the IRB, Language Interpreter Services and Acute Inpatient Therapy,” Torosian says. She spent her early nursing career on a medical surgical unit and later became a charge nurse before assuming her current nursing leadership position. In every post, Torosian believes nurses must be transparent and trustworthy to be successful.  

Her medical staff colleagues inspire her to be the best she can be. “(I love) working together with our team to provide patients quality care while inspiring others to grow personally and professionally,” Torosian says. She believes nursing is not just a vocation but a true calling. “I believe that being a nurse is a privilege and an honor,” she says. “We are often with patients at the most vulnerable moments of their lives when their family and/or loved ones are not able to be with them. The professional practice of nursing is an honor in that we are able to be with and advocate for our patients during joyous times such as birth, anxious times such as surgery and even hold someone’s hand while they are dying. I work with my colleagues and team to lead by example to achieve optimal patient outcomes coupled with an exceptional patient experience.”

Kendaljbush5767hrKathleen (Katie) Huston MS, RN-BC, Nurse Manager, 3West

Front-Line Administrative Nursing (small)
Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Dover 

As a nurse manager at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Kathleen Huston supports a team of about 55 nurses, LNAs and health unit coordinators delivering care to patients with a variety of medical and surgical needs.  

It’s complex work that suggests a long-standing passion for leadership, but Huston graduated college with a BA in psychology and without much of a plan. She spent six months in Australia scooping ice cream before her sister convinced her to enlist in a master’s program in nursing. After some years as an RN, the stars aligned and she joined Wentworth-Douglass just as they were developing their clinical practice leader role, becoming a nurse manager right before the pandemic began.

“My unit became a dedicated COVID-19 floor and saw some really, really sick patients,” says Huston. “My staff were scared and tired and experiencing tragedy on a daily basis.” Huston says it was her job to keep staff informed and armed with the knowledge and emotional support they needed.

“It was such an intense time, and although the experience was devastating and I would never want to revisit it, it was also one of the most rewarding times for me to know my work was impacting the lives of so many and seeing my team rise up in such a powerful way.”

The stakes remain high in the aftermath of COVID. “The inpatient nursing environment requires a level of dedication to staff and patients to see them through the challenges, to be creative in finding solutions to the changing climate,” she says. “I think having a passion and love for the job is the single most important characteristic, but there is also a need to be resilient, open to finding new ways to solve problems and see the potential in people.”

Kendaljbush6016hrJulie Cole / MSN, RN, NPD-BC, Director of the Nurse Residency Program

Clinical Nurse Educator (Small)
Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Dover 

Julie Cole started volunteering at her local hospital when she was 14, and from that point, her heart was set on this profession. After spending years volunteering, she worked as a nursing assistant while attending Saint Anselm College and then spent the first half of her career working with pediatric, neonatal and post-partum families. The last 14 years of her career have been spent working in nursing professional development roles.   

“I plan the curriculum of the program and work with preceptors, educators, managers and nurse residents to ensure that the education needs are being met,” Cole says. “I also oversee the Simulation Center where we provide education and training for all front-line clinical staff and local EMS groups. Simulation is used to improve individual and team performance in a safe learning environment.”

Cole says using simulation in the health care environment is a privilege. “The hospital wanted to revise the Massive Transfusion Protocol, but before proposed changes were implemented hospital wide, they were simulated on each clinical unit,” she says. “This ensured that the changes would be effective and realistic, and each has been very effective and helped patient outcomes.”

No matter if Cole is working through normal day-to-day challenges or a worldwide pandemic, it is her fellow nurses who inspire her to do her best each day. ”Nurse residents have risen to the challenge and are working harder than ever before,” Cole says. “They demonstrate professionalism, courage and resiliency. Ensuring that they have timely education and a supportive work environment is my motivation.” 

Kendaljbush5811hrKatharine Weeks / BSN, RN, Director of Clinical Operations

Front-Line Administrative Nursing (Small)
Wentworth Health Partners, Dover

Modern medicine is serious business, but it can be viewed as a team sport with key players and supporting members all working together. Remove any of the team from play and all the others have to compensate — a lesson that is increasingly being learned with the current shortages in nurses across the country.   

Katharine Weeks began her nursing career in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UMass Medical Center where her focus was supporting a different kind of team: children and their families. Working now in front-line administrative nursing with Wentworth Health Partners, Weeks oversees clinical operations of more than 50 outpatient practices, both primary and specialty care, and is responsible for employees, workflows and processes, training on equipment, infection prevention and countless regulatory policies and protocols.

“I love seeing feedback from patients when they have had a good experience, feel well cared for or feel like a team member went above and beyond for them,” Weeks says. But it all still boils down to the individual patient. “I remember the first letter I received as a new graduate nurse from a patient; I still have it.” A teenage girl had been in a car accident and broke her jaw, which needed to be wired shut. After the girl’s discharge, she sent Weeks a letter, telling her that she was “the best nurse.” 

“I can still remember how it felt to read that letter,” she says. “I smile every time I think of it. I didn’t do anything extraordinary for her other than be kind and friendly, reassure her, take time to communicate with her and care for her. These are the fundamentals of nursing.”

Kendaljbush6348hrDonna Poirier / BSN, RN, HNB-BC, Registered Nurse

Ambulatory Care Nursing
Elliot Health Systems, Manchester

Donna Poirier spent 20 years of her career in the neonatal intensive care unit, but it was her personal experience with Lyme disease that led her to pivot to working in pain management for the last 15 years.   

“I needed less stress and a better work-life balance,” Poirier says. “My healing journey with Lyme disease included alternative therapies like clinical aromatherapy and an herbal apprenticeship, which fueled my desire to learn more about plant medicines and eventually obtain my Holistic Nursing Certification in 2012.”

Poirier now facilitates Elliot’s Chronic Pain Support Group meetings, which meet twice a month from September through June. “Practitioners from both Eastern and Western medicine join us to present on a wide variety of topics, from acupuncture and meditation to nutrition and medical marijuana,” she says. “In turn, I also share this knowledge with peers and patients through email and handouts. I have grown so much personally and professionally because of this community. In the end, it’s really just about people helping people live better lives…holistically.”

 An open mind, an ear to listen and a positive attitude fuel Poirier’s practice and help her empower her patients. “Our minds and bodies are intertwined with our emotions and pain, as well as so many internal and external factors that affect pain,” she says. “I try to teach patients to harness tools to help themselves live more satisfying lives with the pain, focusing on their abilities instead of disabilities. I encourage patients to create their own ‘toolbox’ from pearls received from another member at support group or alternative therapies that speak to them. No two toolboxes are the same, and this is what to open and pull from while navigating their wellness journey.”

Kendaljbush7182hrMichele Melanson-Schmitt / RN, DNS, Director of Nursing Services 

Hospice-Palliative Care
Rockingham County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center

Working in Long Term Care (LTC) at Rockingham County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Michele Melanson-Schmitt understands the importance of adaptability. “The ever-changing demands of Long Term Care require a nursing leader to be adaptable to any given situation,” Melanson-Schmitt says. “Identifying opportunities and eliminating obstacles is essential to enhancing LTC. The ability to practice nursing smarter, not harder, will shape the future of LTC.”  

Growing up, Melanson-Schmitt was surrounded by health care workers; much of her family worked in the field, and she found her calling early on in high school. She began her career in 1988 as an LNA at The Courville at Nashua and has continued working in LTC and skilled rehabilitation ever since. Through it all, it’s the lives she’s connected with that drive her. “The residents are my inspiration,” she says. “I aspire to improve the quality of care they receive every day I enter the building. They are the reason I do what I do. I strive to be better than I was the day before so that, in return, the residents receive the utmost individualized nursing care that they all deserve.”

Considering her nearly four-decade career, Melanson-Schmitt is flooded with touching recollections and pointedly human interactions. “My most cherished memories during my 35 years of nursing are the countless hours I have spent with the residents providing them reassurance, a listening ear, a friendly smile and a hand to hold,” she says. “As I reflect on my years of nursing, it is the accumulation of these moments that define why I love what I do. As a leader, I inspire to mentor others and strive to instill my love for nursing in future nurses and all health care providers.”

Kendaljbush5533hrTammy Lambert / MSN, RNC-NIC, Intensive Care Nursery, Nurse Manager

Maternal Child Health Nursing
Dartmouth Health Children’s, Lebanon 

In her 40th year as a registered nurse working in neonatal care, Tammy Lambert has worked with a lot of toddlers. So many, in fact, that she’s seen some of those babies graduate college, get married and become integral parts of their community. “While it makes me feel old, it’s heartwarming to see them in a good place in their life,” Lambert says. “I’ve also bumped into families in the store or other places and they’ve personally thanked me for the care I provided to their baby — years and years later. Wow, I know I chose the right career path!”  

Lambert, now the nurse manager for the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) at Dartmouth Health Children’s in Lebanon, started her career working a summer externship at Mary Hitchcock Hospital (the former name of Dartmouth Hitchcock). Slightly overwhelmed and green to the hospital’s specialized diction, she exhibited real resilience and “came back the next day and every day after that,” as she says, soon discovering a deep reverence for working with children. Spending the next 20 years as a clinical nurse, transport nurse and charge nurse, before transitioning to the leadership role she’s held for the last two decades, Lambert learned what she believes to be the most important trait of an ICN nurse: compassion. “Everything we do or don’t do for our babies can have a lifelong impact on them,” she says. “It is critical that they come into a nurturing environment, because that’s what their brain expects. I want to be sure that our babies have the very best care, so that they don’t ever show any trace of having been in a neonatal intensive care unit. We want our babies to grow up healthy. That’s really what motivates me every day.”

Categories: Nurses, People