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Nurses Earn DAISY Awards for Extraordinary Care


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

Ask Army Capt. Melissa Blankenship, 1st Lt. Joy Turner and 2nd Lt. Jovan Smallwood why they became nurses and you’ll get very similar responses.

“My decision to become a nurse went hand in hand with my decision to join the Army,” Blankenship explained. “I wanted to care for the men and women who serve our great country. We serve an exceptional patient population at Walter Reed Bethesda whom I feel honored to work with each day. 

“The most rewarding part of being a nurse is being able to watch my patients clinically improve each day,” Blankenship continued. “It is an incredible process to watch our interdisciplinary care teams take illness and injury and turn it into recovery,” she added.

“I have always enjoyed learning about my body and helping people,” Turner added.

“I decided to become a nurse after working as a medic at Tripler Army Medical Center [Hawaii] Emergency Department,” Smallwood explained.  “I worked with a great team of nurses that made every day a learning experience, and I truly enjoyed going to work every day. It felt like it was not even a job,” he said.

It is this passion for their chosen profession, as well as their commitment, compassion and care for their patients that earned Blankenship, Turner and Smallwood recent DAISY awards for extraordinary nursing care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

The family of J. Patrick Barnes established the DAISY award for health-care facilities to recognize their nursing team members. In 1999, Barnes was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP) and died shortly thereafter at the age of 33. The Barnes family created the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses and piloted the program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, whose nurses cared for Patrick during the last weeks of his life. DAISY is an acronym for Diseases Attacking the Immune System.

“Our goal was to ensure that nurses know how deserving they are of our society's profound respect for the education, training, brainpower, and skill they put into their work, and especially for the caring with which they deliver their care,” Patrick’s father Mark Barnes explained on the DAISY Foundation website.

Joan Loepker-Duncan, a cardiology service clinical nurse who serves on the DAISY Award Selection Committee at Walter Reed Bethesda, was instrumental in establishing the nurse recognition program at WRNMMC’s predecessor, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She helped spearhead efforts to bring the program to WRNMMC when WRAMC and the National Naval Medical Center merged forces in 2011.

Nearly 70 DAISY selectees, including nurse practitioners, RNs, LPNs, corpsmen, medics and certified nursing assistants from inpatient and outpatients areas, have been recognized with the DAISY award at Walter Reed Bethesda. More than 3,000 nominations have been received for DAISY awards since February 2012 at the medical center, where an honoree is chosen monthly by the selection committee.


A Los Angeles native, Smallwood earned the November 2017 DAISY award at WRNMMC, for which there were 85 nominations. The Army second lieutenant earned the award while assigned to Ward 5 Center. He now works on Ward 7 East.

In nominating Smallwood for the DAISY award, a staff provider stated, “This nurse's performance was impressive on one of our patients on the ward on Oct. 6, 2017. With this nurse's keen clinical observation, he was able to identify the important changes in vital signs and mental state related to opioid toxicity. This nurse had recognized the serious nature of illness and informed the patient's medical team quickly. The patient had opioid overdose and toxicity from the therapeutic opioid dosing for pain control being an opioid naive individual.

“As a result of early identification of opioid toxicity by this nurse, the medical team was able to treat the patient's condition effectively and successfully with timely interventions. Otherwise, the patient would have gone into coma from respiratory depression that can result in an anoxic brain injury or death,” the nominator continued.

“With this nurse's attention to changes in clinic signs and early recognition of life threatening situation, he had saved an important human life. This nurse indeed deserves recognition and reward for the kind, competent, compassionate and exceptional care,” the nominator concluded.

For his part, Smallwood said, “What I find most rewarding is being able to provide care and a smile for people at their most vulnerable moments, when they are anxious, afraid, in pain, tired and sometimes have feelings of hopelessness. In order to provide great care requires me to open up my heart. This allows for a better level of empathy, but when you open up to the good it leaves you vulnerable during time of loss, especially when working in a military environment. I consider everyone who has served or currently serving as a brother- or sister-in-arms, so it makes losing those patients that much harder.”

Smallwood added his military service has increased his national pride as well. “I originally joined the military as an escape from the negative environment that I was surrounded by,” he explained. “By doing so, I was able to get custody of my youngest brother and raise him, and he also currently serves. Through my service I have developed a great pride in my country and appreciation for the opportunities that have been provided to me,” he added.


Blankenship, who hails from Pasadena, Maryland, a suburb of the Baltimore/Annapolis area, earned the December 2017 DAISY award at WRNMMC, which had over 50 nominations.

A patient nominated the 4 East nurse for the award, stating, “Oct. 16, 2017, I underwent another 10-hour reconstructive abdominal surgery in an attempt to fix an RPG blast injury. Needless to say, I woke up in massive pain. It was this nurse that was always there to help with my pain and giving me words of encouragement to get out of bed and move. Move I did, and thanks to this nurse, my pain diminished and I became more mobile. She tended to every need I had and still asked if there was more she could do. I've had over 50 abdominal surgeries since my war injury and this nurse is by far, the most attentive, compassionate and friendly nurse I have had the privilege to meet. This nurse is the poster nurse for this award program. There are many nurses that give all to their patients, but few that ask for nothing in return. She is truly an outstanding nurse!!”

Blankenship completed four years of Army ROTC through Johns Hopkins University ROTC program while concurrently attending nursing school at Stevenson University. She completed the Clinical Nurse Transition Program at WRNMMC and worked on 5 Center for three-and-a-half years before moving to 4E.

“I've seen many, many patients, who have been wheeled into Walter Reed in agony, eventually discharged with a smile,” Blankenship said. “The kind words and gratitude of the patients and their families make the laborious aspects of nursing well worth it,” she added. 


A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Turner earned the January 2018 DAISY award, which had more than 60 nominations. A patient nominated the 4 Center nurse for the honor.

“On several occasions, this nurse went above and beyond. She was always there in a timely manner to give care. This nurse would help with my service dog without being asked; make it a point to ask about my day, which showed that she cared about the patients,” the nominator stated.

“On her day off, upon me being discharged to an outpatient, this nurse came in to help take my belongings to the Navy Gateway Inn since being in a wheelchair with a dog would have taken me several trips,” the patient continued. “She would always make it a point to be at the bedside when Ortho was coming to change and clean wounds to distract me and make me laugh and keep me pain free.

“All that this nurse has done is way too much to write or explain. She is the best nurse I have ever had here since my care began in 2006. This nurse is very professional, kind, caring and thorough about the job,” the patient concluded.

Turner explained it’s most rewarding about what she does to see the humility and gratitude of “her brothers- and sisters-in-arm for having someone like them care for them and their family. I do my best to make sure those who sacrifice so much for this country, their family, and individuals like myself, receive nothing but the best care.”

Prior to becoming a nurse, Turner was a military police in the Georgia National Guards. “I said to myself, ‘I want to help people,’ so I transitioned to an active duty 66H (medical surgical nurse),” she said. “I'm not just a nurse, but a Soldier first,” she added.

Anyone can nominate a member of the WRNMMC nursing team for the DAISY award. Nominations for the DAISY award can be submitted to any nurse or clerk at WRB, or by e-mail to joan.loepkerduncan.civ@mail.mil. Nominations can be mailed to Joan Loepker-Duncan, WRNMMC, 8930 Brown Drive, Bldg. 9, Room 2894, Bethesda, Maryland 20889. For additional information about the DAISY award at WRB, contact Joan Loepker-Duncan at 301-319-4617.​​​