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 pandemic wears on, perhaps the world at large is 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 in such stressful, uncertain times.
New Hampshire Magazine, in partnership with the New Hampshire Nurses Association, is proud to be a part of highlighting nurses’ important contributions and many talents with the fifth annual Excellence in Nursing Awards. This past winter, we accepted nominations for New Hampshire nurses in 13 vital specialties, from pediatrics and public health 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.
Anna Ivy M. Park BSN, RN, OCN, MED-SURG-BC
Unit Nurse Manager Oncology Inpatient Unit and Hematology Cellular Therapy Unit
Front Line/Administrative Nursing Leader
Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon
Anna Ivy Park has been a nurse for 14 years but only in a leadership role for the past five. The pandemic has made the last three of those especially demanding, because all patients in the unit where she is the nurse manager are immune compromised.
“We were the only unit that did not accept Covid-positive patients,” she explains. “Throughout Covid, we’ve been protecting people and making sure that they don’t get transmission. Our staff has been overly protective of the patients and is being extra compassionate.”
Though over-stressed and over-taxed, the nurses answer every bell. It fuels her fire to be a mentor to her fellow nurses.
“I had a very good mentor. She showed me the value of going beyond patient care,” Park says. “Seeing young nurses grow, professionally develop and find their niche — or realize they have this talent that they didn’t know about — is rewarding. It’s seeing the sparkle in their eye when they realize, ‘I’ve got this.’ Or ‘I’m a charge nurse now. I can precept somebody.’”
Park is from the Philippines and knows that, as a person of color, the spotlight is on her. “I feel it helps others who’ve just arrived here from whichever country they come from. They can look at me and say, ‘If she got to do what she loves, it gives me the courage to pursue what I want.’ Here, we encourage professional development, so I just lead the way. That’s been such a good thing overall for my unit and for the institution as a whole,” she says.
Sometimes the best prescription for her staff is an extra dose of encouragement.
“I always tell them to know what your values are and know what your primary value as a nurse is. When the toughest of times come, go back to that. Find your river that flows and gives you the energy to go on,” she says.
Senior Nursing Leader
Dartmouth Health’s Cheshire Medical Center, Keene
Health care is a complex environment, never more so than during a multiyear pandemic response, and those on the top management team face unique challenges at every turn.
“I think that empathetic leadership is crucial for anyone in nursing leadership today. Empathetic leaders understand and are sensitive to another person’s feelings, thoughts and actions. Empathy and compassion help nurse leaders create an environment of value, respect and well-being,” says Chief Nursing Officer Amy Matthews.
In her role, she guides and supports nursing practice. Through interdisciplinary collaboration at the executive level, she endeavors to make sure that Cheshire Medical Center advances the health and wellness of those in the Monadnock Region.
Though she has served in the profession for 35 years, she remains motivated by patients and the nurses who care for them despite the daily trials.
“Patients have always inspired me, and they have given me a deeper appreciation of the full human experience. Now, and especially through the lens of an extremely challenging Covid surge, I am inspired by the nurses whom I serve. They have suffered heartache, fatigue, loss and distress but have never wavered in providing care for our community,” she says. “I’m immensely proud of Cheshire nurses and the entire staff for how they maintained skillful care, strength and compassion throughout this time.”
Matthews wants to encourage others to follow her path into leadership roles.
“While I was completing an MS in nursing education, our previous CNO approached me and noted that I had an interest in education. She indicated that although she believed that I was a fine educator, she really needed nurses in leadership roles. She went on to ask me to consider shifting my focus and moving back into leadership. I shifted, thoroughly enjoyed our time working together, and continue striving to be a better nurse leader. That is how many nurses enter or move through leadership roles — someone else sees their potential. If you are tapped on the shoulder, consider saying yes,” she says.
Sandra J. McDonald, MSN, ACNP-BC, APRN
Lead Advanced Practice Provider, Neurocritical Care
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock
Medical Center, Lebanon
Sandy McDonald says that it was the “happiest of accidents” that brought her into her specialty.
“Prior to becoming a nurse practitioner, I was an ICU nurse. I traveled for a few years before I went back to grad school, and while I was working in the ICU at Physicians Regional Medical Center in Naples, Florida, we had two new physicians join the team. These two physicians specialized in neurocritical care, neuroendovascular surgery and neurointerventional radiology, bringing with them a new patient population with different diagnoses. I learned so much and loved the patients we were taking care of, and so, from then on, I continued my career within the neurocritical care world,” she explains.
At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, she is the lead advanced practice provider (APP) in the Neurocritical Care Unit, where critically ill patients with neurologic conditions are treated. She leads a team of nine APPs in providing comprehensive care for these patients in collaboration with physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists.
She stresses the importance of empathy in her role, and never loses sight of the fact that each patient has a life outside the walls of the unit, and that life now may be drastically changed.
“In NCCU, the expected length of stay is longer than in other inpatient units due to the types of diseases and illnesses we are caring for. That affords us the unique opportunity to really get to know our patients and their families quite well, and from that I have learned so very much,” she says. “They are allowing us into their lives during what can be one of the most difficult times they have experienced, and that is truly a privilege and an honor. For that reason, I continue to strive to be and do better, and isn’t that what excellence really is? The journey is not the destination.”
Ambulatory Care Nursing
Manchester VA Medical Center, Manchester
When one of the veterans who has served our country needs an organ transplant, Laurie Kofstad is at their service. She oversees identifying, evaluating and coordinating their care.
“Patients in need of a transplant are extremely ill, overwhelmed and feel they have no control over their disease,” says Kofstad. “Providing compassion without judgment through active listening allows the patient to feel comfortable sharing their worries. When a patient feels they are heard, they don’t feel alone. Knowing someone is there to support them is essential for the best possible outcome.”
Kofstad celebrates each success, though one patient in particular stands out.
“Recently, a transplant referral was received for an extremely ill veteran in need of a liver transplant. The evaluation process was difficult throughout with many unforeseen obstacles. Through perseverance, we were able to complete the evaluation. He was found eligible and was quickly listed. After several weeks, a match was found, and he received a new liver,” she says. “Once healed, this veteran returned home and is now living a full life. What joy it brought me to be part of his journey.”
Kofstad began her career in 1995 at Home Health and Hospice Care in Merrimack after graduating with an associate’s degree in nursing from what was then Rivier College. Her colleagues in the profession both past and present have inspired her throughout her journey in the profession.
“My nurse mentors, Susan and Kelly, both displayed a level of dedicated and compassionate nursing that I aspired to achieve. They encouraged me to continue my education and supported me as I completed my BSN and MSN. My VA nurse managers provided an opportunity to be part of the VA transplant program. The empowerment they provided allowed for full autonomy and is why I have been able provide care to our veterans at the highest level possible,” she says.
“Being the transplant coordinator has become my greatest achievement in my nursing career.”
Medical Surgical Nursing
Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Dover
It was a life-saving event that led Caitlin Kretschmar into nursing.
“I wanted to own a bookstore most of my life, then in high school I had a brain aneurysm and later a stroke,” she explains. “I saw how wonderful my nurses were at Boston Children’s Hospital and quickly decided that I wanted to be just like the amazing nurses who saved my life. I then went to the University of New Hampshire’s nursing program and started at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital immediately after graduating in 2015. I have been there since.”
She serves as a nurse/charge nurse on a telemetry/medical surgical unit but had to adjust to a critical change when it was quickly transitioned into a Covid unit in March 2020. She and her team immediately found themselves on the front lines in the battle.
“Having just experienced one of the worst Covid surges we have ever seen back in December, I was asked to give a talk about what it was like on our floor, and how we were all struggling. I don’t enjoy speaking in front of people but knew that everyone needed to know what we were going through,” she says.
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.
Hospice-Palliative Care & Gerentological Nursing
Maplewood Nursing Home of Cheshire County, Westmoreland
“I feel an overwhelming sense of privilege while caring for a person who is in the last moments of their life,” says Jacob Fox, who oversees the nursing staff and tends to the needs of patients during the overnight shift in the long-term care unit.
“Together, with those who I work with, we make every effort to promote comfort, peace and calmness. Often, this will include the family,” says Fox, who after 13 years spent in the manufacturing sector heard the call and enrolled in the LNA program at River Valley Community College in 2007. “It is during these times I will tell a funny or heartfelt story about the resident. I am known to have a straight-forward, no-nonsense approach. Families have told me how much they appreciate my candor. The true reward comes from the families’ expression of thanks for all that we do for their loved one.”
His philosophy is to accentuate the positive. That sets the tone and creates the environment for patients and staff.
Fox, who has been with Maplewood since 2008, is a graduate of Vermont Tech’s practical nurse program and earned his associate’s degree in the science of nursing in 2018. He’s grateful to the Maplewood nurses who have guided and supported him through the years.
“They have watched me progress through my education and career, teaching and mentoring me along the way. These nurses, whether they’re a floor nurse, manager, shift supervisor or in administration, have each inspired me to be the best that I can be,” he says.
Ambulatory Clinical Nurse Educator
Elliot Medical Group, Manchester
In the fourth grade, Jennifer Miller wrote a book report on Florence Nightengale and from that point her heart was set on this profession. After graduating from the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing, she served four years as a U.S. Air Force nurse, and in the 25 years since she’s lived in eight states and worked in a variety of settings that contributed to her knowledge and experience.
“The incredible news is that my excitement to serve patients, families, new hires, students and my peers has never wavered, and I feel blessed every day to be a nurse,” she says. “My passion has always revolved around taking excellent care of patients and their families.”
As the nurse educator for the primary and specialty care clinics, she creates content and presents the orientation courses for medical assistants, LPNs and RNs. Her goal is to ensure a smooth onboarding process for new hires, as well as the students who come to the offices for their clinical practicum experiences. For current staff, she encourages professional development opportunities and connects them with resources.
Miller believes that one of the most important character traits for someone in her specialty is an attitude of humble inquiry.
“Whenever a concern or question is raised, my first instinct is to discover the why behind the situation or behavior. I am passionate to connect with the clinical staff to further understand the process/procedure/workflow. The next step is to consult the current evidence-based practice recommendations, then work diligently to implement an improvement to the current state,” she says. “As an educator, I appreciate the powerful nature of my words. Each teaching moment, email, text or letter of recommendation can greatly impact the future of the clinical staff I have the privilege to educate. In keeping up with former students and peers, it has been wonderful to see careers flourish and dreams come true.”
Charge Nurse, DNP, MAN, RN NICU
NICU and Nursing Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Office of Nursing Support, Clinical Nurse NICU
Pediatric and School Nursing
Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon
Jennifer Orbeso says the best advice she was ever given is dare to dream; it’s free to all.
Her dreams have taken her to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she fulfills dual roles as a clinical nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit and as the nursing diversity and inclusion specialist in the office of nursing support.
“As a diversity and inclusion specialist, I work in partnership with different stakeholders in the organization to ensure diversity and inclusion in our workforce. I take an active lead in improving the recruitment, engagement and retention needs of nurses coming from culturally diverse background and those who are internationally trained,” says Orbeso, who is fluent in four languages.
In her role as a clinician, she takes care of premature neonates and other babies born with a medical condition requiring critical care, and that expands to taking care of the neonate’s family. She helps empower parents to take care of their babies so they can be prepared to take good care of them when they go home knowing that they have undergone a stressful and traumatic experience in their early parenthood journey caring for a NICU baby.
“The most important trait a NICU nurse should have is the ability to observe in silence. The language of neonates is extremely different from the way adults communicate. A NICU nurse is known for disarming gentleness. We move things through gentleness,” she says.
She was drawn to neonatology, which is a relatively new specialty under the broader discipline of pediatric medicine.
“I am passionate to giving voice. In this case, I am giving voice to small human beings. It takes a brave heart to hear microvoices, including those who are prematurely born,” says Orbeso, who has been in practice for 18 years and says her personal philosophy is to do things to the best of her ability each time and every time.
What advice does she have for someone new to her role?
“Find meaning in the work that you do,” she offers. “Remember the reason why you first fell in love with your job.”
Public Health Nursing
NH Division of Public Health Services, Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, Concord
She may have retired recently from her job with the state, but Darlene Morse remains a lifelong learner.
“Because of that, public health allows me to learn something new every day. You learn about infectious diseases when you are in school, but you don’t really learn all the nuances around investigation and how to manage those diseases until you have had to delve into the disease investigation. I have been fortunate to work with such incredibly smart colleagues such as Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, Dr. Jose Montero and Dr. Ben Chan. These providers have fostered a learning atmosphere in public health. It has also been wonderful to be able to consult on things like the administrative rules that govern the way infectious diseases are investigated before they go to the Legislature for approval,” she explains.
Before retiring, Morse filled several roles. She managed and worked with seven nurses who investigate and make recommendations around reports of infectious disease. She was the State of New Hampshire tuberculosis (TB) nurse consultant, providing expert consultation to providers and nurses regarding TB case management. During the Covid-19 response, her role expanded to assisting in the investigation and contact tracing of cases.
She says the nurses who work in her field need to be extremely nimble, as it is distinct from any other type of nursing, especially in disease investigation. Any suspect outbreak, cluster of illness, unusual occurrence of communicable disease, or other incident that may pose a threat to the public’s health must be reported within 24 hours of recognition.
“These nurses are the emergency responders of public health,” she says. “The nurses may find themselves working on infectious disease reports that have come in, and then have an investigation blossom into a huge investigation that requires several nurses to participate. Public health nursing is so different from hospital or long-term care settings in that we deal with the report of the individual with an infectious disease and how they affect the group of people around them. That investigation may involve situations that may not end at the end of the workday.”
April Henry, MSN, RNC-OB, CNL
Director of the Family Center and Center of Reproductive Care and Maternal Fetal Medicine
Maternal-Child Health Nursing
Exeter Hospital, Exeter
Though she’s been a maternal-child nurse for a quarter-century, each miracle of birth remains magical for April Henry.
“That moment when a baby is born and goes to the parents. It is like time is frozen and you witness pure love. I am always awed and humbled to be a part in helping to make that experience happen,” says the director of Exeter Hospital’s Family Center and the Center of Reproductive Care and Maternal Fetal Medicine.
In her dual roles, she oversees labor and delivery, post-partum, pediatrics and the nursery. She has spent 20 years at bedside and worked in underserved areas in Southern California, high-risk obstetrics in New Jersey and the community hospital in Exeter.
“Maternal-child nurses have to be highly skilled and autonomous. You have to have the right amount of critical thinking skills, caring and empathy,” she says. “We are tasked and honored to be a part of the most monumental day in one’s life, and our patients trust us to guide them and their family safely through the process. Most patients never forget their labor and delivery nurse and see them as a lifeline at one of their most vulnerable times.”
Henry derives her motivation to excel from her patients and from the team she leads.
“I am so fortunate to lead a wonderful team of nurses that always rises to the occasion despite obstacles such as Covid. We keep the goal in mind — healthy babies, healthy moms, and we do our work. Babies are born despite the pandemic. We care for families and keep them safe,” she says.
Concord Hospital, Concord
Melissa Eastman has been a nurse for 27 years, serving for the past 15 of them in Concord Hospital’s emergency department, where on every shift she is in situations that put her in the middle of a patient or family’s worst day.
“Regardless of how challenging these last couple years have been with Covid, knowing that I do make a difference for patients and their loved ones keeps me returning with empathy and compassion,” she says.
As the resource nurse, she is responsible for patient flow, resource allocation, and clinical mentoring and support for ER nurses. She manages the day-to-day operations in the ER while on shift, triaging ambulance traffic to make sure that patients entering the department are getting the appropriate care by matching clinical experience to patient assignments and acuity.
As the ER resource nurse, she must be able to juggle multiple competing priorities. “Staying level-headed during surges of patients/acuity is vital. You have to be able to have multiple plans for the day and adjust on the fly as obstacles are presented,” says Eastman, who for seven years was the department’s nurse manager before returning to the bedside in 2020.
“I am inspired to excellence in nursing to ensure that patients arriving to our department receive quality care, whether I am directly providing care or assisting the team in doing so. I strive to offer the very best to every patient that enters our department seeking care,” she says.
Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing
Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon
Tina Favero was dining with a friend when she noticed a woman peering at her through the restaurant window. She recognized her as a former patient with a long history of mental illness, including multiple episodes of violence toward health care providers.
“This woman nearly tore the door off the hinges as she entered the restaurant. Without violating HIPAA, I warned my friend that she might have to call 911 shortly, depending on what happened next. I stood up from my chair as the woman walked very quickly toward me. She was about six inches away from me and I braced myself, as I was fully anticipated she would take a swing,” she says. “Surprisingly, she embraced me in a bear hug and lifted me off the ground. I am a rather hefty woman, so this was no small feat. Through her tears she thanked me for believing in her, being honest with her about her care, and for saving her life. That was the day I realized I was doing precisely the type of nursing I was meant to do.”
Favero is a psychiatric RN working in the DHMC emergency department with high-acuity psychiatric patients. She provides crisis intervention and stabilization for those with suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and a myriad of other mental health diagnoses and conditions.
She is proud of the ability to utilize humor and therapeutic listening when working with patients to help them see that health care providers recognize them as individuals and not as their diagnoses. This facilitates trust and empowers patients to actively participate in their own care through self-efficacy and accountability.
Before joining the DHMC staff in 2017, she was a charge nurse on a 15-bed, LGBTQIA+ adult inpatient psychiatric unit as well as a clinical nurse leader on a 10-bed inpatient psychiatric unit in Vermont.
“Mental illness does not discriminate and can affect anyone at any time. I feel it is both an honor and a privilege to assist patients in their healing process. It is an amazing feeling to see former patients doing well in the community and know I played a small part in their recovery,” she says.
Catholic Medical Center, Manchester
Monica Matulonis’ years of experience enable her to remain unruffled in a crisis.
“To be a cardiac ICU nurse, an important trait to have is the ability to remain calm in emergencies,” says Matulonis. “I’ve learned to do this over time, and I find the key is to go over in my head all of the possible scenarios that could happen, and what I would do in that scenario. That way, I’m always ready for what may happen.”
For the past eight years, Matulonis has been primarily caring for post-open heart surgery patients at Catholic Medical Center, and during the past three years, she’s been the specialist who gives training and practical experience to nurses new to their role in CMC’s nationally renowned unit.
Though she’s an expert cardiac nurse, she had to take on a new role in 2020 during the height of the pandemic when she was tasked with being the charge nurse in the Covid intensive care unit.
“I witnessed so much compassion and devotion from my co-workers those months. Through the exhaustion and discomfort of multiple layers of PPE, everyone came together and worked so hard for these patients and for each other. It was the most amazing evidence of teamwork that I had ever seen as a nurse. It reminded me of why I ended up in nursing — to become part of a team that does everything they can for their patients,” she says.
Not only is she composed, she is compassionate.
“What inspires me to be an excellent nurse is to utilize empathy with each and every patient. My goal is to treat every patient and family member like they are my family or close friend,” she says.