And the Winner is . . .

When Grady Memorial Hospital says it appreciates its nurses, it’s not a hollow statement. Each year, the hospital’s chief nursing officer organizes a lavish black-tie event to recognize outstanding nursing performance. It’s an extraordinarily elegant evening that includes all of the glitz that one might expect from an Academy Awards ceremony—including a dramatic buildup to the announcement of the winners.

Appropriately named the Academy Awards for Nursing Excellence, Grady’s awards program exists solely to recognize outstanding nursing performance and culminates each year in an amazing red carpet gala. The gala is the brainchild of Chief Nursing Officer Rhonda A. Scott, PhD, RN, NE-BC. On her arrival at the Atlanta hospital a little more than 10 years ago, she saw the potential that the nursing staff had to offer but also knew that some areas needed to change.

Since then, Dr. Scott has eliminated nurse contract labor, enhanced nurse recruitment and retention, and improved patient, nursing, and physician job satisfaction. Prime among her goals was to create a rewards and recognition program for the hospital’s nurses. “One thing that I wanted to accomplish early on was a top-of-the-line recognition program,” she says. “When I first met with my leadership team, I described my vision of an awards ceremony to be held at a five-star hotel—a red carpet, black tie, $100-a-plate event—with nurses who would be escorted by the executive medical staff. They looked at me as though I had three heads, but we made it happen.”

The idea certainly was unique. Even 10 years later, Dr. Scott is hard pressed to find an awards program at any other hospital that rivals Grady’s. By its ninth year, the gala has grown tremendously. The first year was an immediate sell-out with 250 people attending. Three years later, attendance had grown to roughly 350 people. Since then, the event routinely draws between 400 and 500 attendees. It sells out every year.

The event is financed entirely through fundraising and sponsorships. No Grady funds are tapped for the event. Physicians, local universities, hospital vendors, and friends of the hospital cover the costs—all in the name of honoring outstanding nursing performance.

A Category for Every Nurse
To ensure that every nurse has an opportunity to be nominated, 15 award categories cover every nursing specialty for each of the 1,432 nurses at Grady Memorial. These categories include ambulatory care, critical care, emergency /trauma, long-term care, medical-surgical and oncology, women and infants, perioperative, psychiatric/behavioral health, and a new category for pediatrics. The Rookie of the Year Award was also recently added to honor a new RN graduate who demonstrates an exceptional work ethic along with leadership and clinical skills. Special categories exist for LPNs and advanced practice registered nurses as well.

Some of the awards are sponsored by specific groups. The Charles H. Hamilton, M.D., Community Health Award, for example, is sponsored by some of the hospital’s physicians who wanted to show support for nursing. The Betty Blake Award for Excellence in Surgical Nursing is another special award named for the hospital’s former chief nursing officer who devoted more than 50 years of service to Grady Memorial. Ms. Blake continues to attend the gala every year.

An Honor to be Nominated
All RNs, LPNs, and APRNs are eligible to be nominated for an award provided they meet the criteria established by the Nurse Executive Council. The criteria stipulate that nominees must be employed full-time with at least two years of experience or part-time with five years of experience and be in good standing on work performance. Nominees must be nurses who portray a positive image of nursing along with excellent clinical skills and judgment, who exude a positive attitude and commit to professional development, and who work to advance the nursing profession and participate in scholarly activities. They should inspire others to excel, work effectively with other members of the health care team, support the hospital’s Magnet Journey, and go above and beyond to better the lives of patients and families while mentoring the next generation of nurses.

Anyone can nominate a nurse for an award, including nurse colleagues, nurse management, physicians, and members of support services. The number of nominations has more than doubled over the past nine years.

After all of the nominations are received, Dr. Scott sends a congratulatory note to each nurse nominee. Then the nominations go to a panel of eight judges who score each nomination. The three nominees with the highest scores in each category are selected as finalists along with four finalists from the Rookie of the Year category.

The Awards Gala
All of the finalists are invited to attend the annual awards gala, which begins with a VIP reception where finalists mingle with the executive staff and sponsors and receive special gifts. After a champagne toast, the official program begins with dinner. After dinner, each finalist is introduced and escorted to the stage by a member of the medical executive staff. Each finalist receives a plaque. Then the winner in each category is announced. A drum roll and klieg lights add to the drama. Each winner receives a crystal trophy and a bouquet of roses and then makes an acceptance speech. The awards ceremony ends with the announcement of the nurse who had the highest overall score of any of the nominees. This nurse receives the CEO Award.

It’s an unforgettable night for these nurses. “We have some outstanding nurses who win these awards, and they are so touched that we recognize them in such a big way,” Dr. Scott explains. “You can tell by their acceptance speeches what it means to them to be recognized for what they love to do.”

Dr. Scott believes the program has had an impact on nurse job satisfaction scores. And it has improved the overall image of nursing within Grady Memorial and beyond. “People all around Atlanta are now very aware of this program,” she says.

In no small measure, the Academy Awards of Nursing Excellence demonstrates Grady Memorial’s strong commitment to nursing excellence. “We want to show our sincere appreciation,” Dr. Scott explains. “Our nurses could work anywhere. When nurses are recognized and rewarded for what they do, we retain them and they continue to do great things for our organization.

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