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