Nurse award honorees discuss profession in era of COVID-19

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published August 25, 2020








CLINTON TOWNSHIP — What better time to honor nurses and essential workers than during a once-in-100-year pandemic?

On July 14, Anne Stewart, Kelley Wilson and Alexis Zynda — all residents of Clinton Township — were among those honored with a Nightingale Award for excellence in the nursing profession. It is the 32nd year Oakland University has recognized the work of nursing professionals, and it is the bicentennial of the birthday of Florence Nightingale.

Stewart was named a winner in the executive administration category, while Wilson and Zynda were named runners-up in the nursing distinguished alumni and staff nurse categories, respectively.

Stewart, a nurse for 36 years, is the vice president and chief nursing officer at Beaumont Royal Oak Hospital, where her responsibility involves overseeing nursing practices in all areas of the hospital. Previously, she spent six years in the chief nursing officer position at the hospital’s Grosse Pointe location.

“My mother was a nurse, so it kind of was part of our family,” Stewart said. “It was what I was used to. … The Nightingale is really the top award in nursing in this area. I’m just kind of speechless.”

To win this award during a pandemic adds perspective. Stewart talked about how if people didn’t previously realize the risks undertaken by health care providers, they do now. From the staffers working long shifts to those who didn’t go home for weeks or months as to not possibly infect their families, she praised their sacrifices.

“I think none of us expected to see this in our career,” she said. “Every day, you were doing things the best way you could in that moment, and things changed very rapidly. … It’s unprecedented, but we lived through it and everybody did the best we could. But to look at the frontlines and what they sacrificed, there’s no words. They came in every day to work against a virus.”

Wilson works in Detroit, at the Eisenberg Center for Translational Therapeutics, within the Karmanos Cancer Institute. She has been a registered nurse since 1992 and a certified family nurse practitioner since 2007.

She manages the Eisenberg Center, where many of the available clinical trials are performed. She also manages many nurse practitioners and physician assistants at the downtown campus.

“I carry a smaller patient load at this time but am available to jump in and help wherever needed,” Wilson said. “I love my job and am challenged every day to perform at an optimal level to provide excellent care to our oncology patients, who are in a fight for their lives.”

Her career path started while back in college, while at Oakland University and partially through a biology degree. She said her father encouraged her to consider nursing as a profession. Fate took hold and she said she “immediately found my purpose and never looked back.”

She heaps praise on OU transforming her life through her educational preparation, and she praised “the best of the best” at the Karmanos Cancer Institute for making her a “better nurse, leader and person.”

“The transformation of nursing has been extremely exciting,” Wilson said. “It’s more responsibility than ever before, but when you know you are making a difference in someone’s quality of life, there is nothing more rewarding.

“The COVID crisis has really demonstrated that nursing, while it continues to be an artform, is an amazing combination of science, innovation and survival that allows us to take excellent care of patients and alleviate some of their fears and concerns. As an oncology provider, we faced an amazing challenge to keep our patients safe while continuing to fight cancer, and if I may say so myself, we rocked it!”

Zynda is a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Beaumont Royal Oak, where she has been for three years and has always worked with sick infants.

Nursing was not her intended career. Originally, she attended Grand Valley State University with the idea of being a physician’s assistant. Due to requiring a set number of clinical hours, she began working at the NICU at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“That is when my career path changed,” Zynda said. “I was working with the sickest of babies and, while terrified at first, I became extremely attached to these infants and their families. I wanted to see these babies thrive, go home with their parents, and to be a part of their journey from the beginning to the end.

“This changed my decision to become a nurse because I felt that nursing was the profession where I could be by my patients’ side the most and have so much influence in their care. It was the only thing I wanted to do. Then and there, I applied and completed the accelerated nursing program at GVSU.”

She said the pandemic hasn’t changed the priorities of her and her fellow nurses, because they always take care of patients to the best of their abilities. Like her fellow honorees, she believes the public has a new perspective on her and her colleagues, due to constantly evolving rules and protocols and being educators on the virus.

“We are our patients’ family and hand to hold while they are alone in their hospital room, and we continue to be that vital link between our patients and the rest of the healthcare team,” she said. “We are on the frontlines, and we are with our patients the most. We have to react quickly and effectively and be the advocates for our patients. I am extremely proud of my profession. We are truly a team, we are in this together and we have risen to the constant challenges of this awful virus.”

As for her Nightingale honor, Zynda said she feels like she is just beginning in the profession and has plenty of room to grow. She attributed part of her success to what she has learned from others.

“I wish I could share this award with all of them,” she stated. “This honor shows just how much I love what I do and how hard I’ve worked to improve the care that is provided to our smallest of patients. I am extremely proud of what I do and am so thrilled to be recognized for it.”