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The 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurses event shines a light on the tremendous contributions of the nursing profession, as heightened by the pandemic. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News.
The 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurses event shines a light on the tremendous contributions of the nursing profession, as heightened by the pandemic. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News.

Celebrating the impact of diverse nurses across the region

The fourth annual AL DÍA Top Nurses event honored 14 individuals for their unwavering commitment to their patients, clients and communities.

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As the region, nation and world continue taking the steps to get past the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of nurses can’t be overstated.

Ensuring that that value doesn’t get tossed to the wayside, AL DÍA hosts its annual Top Nurses event to honor the most impactful and inspiring nurses and future nurses of diverse backgrounds throughout the region. 

This year, 14 individuals were honored — 10 nurse professionals in five different practices,  two students who present the future generation of the profession, an emerging leader, and a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. 

The honorees were: David Alvarez-Sanchez, Andre Rosario, Dr. Donna Volpe, Shavone Boyd, Julian L. Gallegos, Tracy Walker, Dr. Melissa Pluguez-Moldavskiy, Brunilda “Cookie” Sanchez, Sheila Caldwell, Alicia Valentin, Rebecca Rivas, Monica Harmon, Jessica Alicea-Planas and Wanda J. Nolasco. 

Dr. Adriana Perez, who served as emcee for the event, noted that while all have unique journeys, they all shared the same desire to help others and inspire the next generation.

After the opening remarks, a panel discussion took place between three nursing professionals, moderated by Dr. Margarita David and featuring Valerie Caraballo and Dr. Daisy Lara.

Each of them have carved their own paths within their professional careers, bringing with them a great level of compassion and desire to help others.

For both, their foundation was heavily influenced by their parents. 

“My morals, how to treat people with respect, that's huge when it comes to nursing,” said Lara.

Caraballo shared similar sentiments, sharing that her parents were “the first ones who imparted the values that I have — compassion, my drive [and] my integrity,” she said. 

Throughout her journey, Lara learned three prominent pieces of advice that she has taken with her and often shares: be confident, be competent and know when to say “no.”

The nursing profession has evolved over the years, and allowed nurses to make a greater overall impact.

For Caraballo, she has made it a point to go beyond just bedside nursing.

“I want to be in the community, I want to educate families and kids about things that I'm doing in the hospital… and make a difference,” she said.

Both have been able to do so in their own right, and are committed to continue doing so.

For the final portion of the event, the honorees each got a chance to show their appreciation for the honor of being selected as a 2022 AL DÍA Top Nurse, and reiterate their dedication to their field.

Dr. Volpe — who has been an obstetrical nurse for 37 years — said that it’s a privilege to do the work she does. 

“It remains a privilege to me to be a part of caring for moms, watching families be born and also supporting those that suffered the heartbreaking loss of their babies, as well,” she said. 

“It's never been more important than now to be an advocate for moms and newborns as they experienced the pandemic… and face disparities in care related to race, culture and bias,” Volpe continued.

As a nurse, she is committed to being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

The pandemic has forced many nursing professionals to pivot in the way in which they provide care.

Walker noted that the sign of a true leader and professional is the ability to pivot and adjust to different situations and environments with an eye toward keeping patients and clients at the forefront. 

Dr. Pluguez-Moldavskiy shared a similar sentiment. 

“I think that we need to continue pushing forward as healthcare providers in any of our capacities, and providing care to our specific patient populations, both on a local level [and] national level,” she said. “Whatever it is that we can provide, we should continue pushing forward the great advancement of nursing.”

For Nurse Sanchez, her 27-year nursing career has seen her work in various settings — from ICU to case management and for the past decade, home care.

Her career in home care presented her with a glaring reality.

“Working in home care, I was able to experience the lack of education our community was facing,” said Sanchez. “So, I wanted to be a part of the solution and make a difference in our community.”

From there, each time she goes out to see her clients, she ensures to educate them on the most critical pieces of information they need to know, no matter what it takes. 

Being informed and educated in many cases, brings out levels of inspiration for many.

Inspiration is what has helped drive Valentin’s work as a nurse.

“As a Latina, whose parents were Puerto Rican and Mexican, I hope to be an inspiration to future nurses, to help my co-workers and to continue to advocate for my patients,” she said. 

For Rivas, it’s been inspiring to see the diversity of her and her fellow nurses’ patients at Jefferson. 

“Teamwork is such a huge thing,” said Rivas. “We have a variety of different cultures at the bedside of the hospital, and I think we see directly how much it benefits patients when there’s a variety of different health care practitioners, as well… it’s been really inspiring.”  

The nursing field requires a lot of work. 

However, to Harmon, she doesn’t consider her career — as a public health nurse, educator and researcher — work.

“I love what I do everyday,” she said. “At the center of my teaching and my research is the community.”

Her career allows her to have conversations with community members, and learn about how they are and what she can do to make their help better. 

“I know that I sit in spaces where they may not ever go, but their voices [and] their spirits are carried with me,” Harmon added. 

To close, Nolasco — the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient — reflected upon her 30-plus year journey in the field.

She thanked her current organization, the Behavioral Wellness Center at Girard for “taking a chance” on her and recruiting her from Puerto Rico in 2002. 

“The BeWell Center has given me the opportunity to develop and grow as a nurse and as a leader, providing me support, guidance and expertise along the way,” said Nolasco. 

She understands that her work truly makes a difference, and pledged to continue doing so with the same handful of qualities that she has led with throughout her career.

“I will continue my efforts to make a difference always with compassion, honesty, humility, passion and dedication,” she said. 

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