“It was surprising and exciting. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunities in my career and people in my path which led up to this,” said Williams, an education specialist in professional practice and staff development at St. Anthony Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri. “It is also humbling, as I know of so many deserving nurses, including the other finalists.”
The March of Dimes annual Nurse of the Year Award honors nurses who exemplify an extraordinary level of patient care, compassion and customer service. Whether serving as a health care provider, educator, researcher, chapter volunteer or advisor – nurses play a critical role in advancing the organization’s mission to improve the health of all babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. The Nurse of the Year initiative supports this mission while recognizing exceptional nurses throughout the state and celebrating the profession.
Williams, a 1979 Southeast graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, has been interested in nursing from a young age. She enjoyed learning about first aid and the human body as well as teaching others. While working as a staff nurse in the Coronary Care Unit at St. Anthony’s, she also taught portions of Intensive Care Unit courses.
“When the opportunity became available to be an educator at my hospital, I jumped at it,” she said. “I consider myself blessed to be able to combine the two career passions in my life, nursing and teaching. I love the idea that what I teach and help nurses learn directly impacts their ability to advocate and safely care for their patients.”
As an education specialist, Williams teaches classes geared toward critical care and stepdown nurses. She is also part of a simulation team that provides real world scenarios to enhance learning. She participates in several committees that focus on the nursing process, such as the Nursing Research Council and the Emergency Preparedness and Code Blue/Rapid Response committees.
Williams said she misses direct bedside care of patients, but feels that she still has an impact on patients through the hands, hearts and minds of others.
The most effective way to make an impact, she said, is by having her programs provide a greater understanding of patients’ needs. During one such memorable program, Williams and a colleague created a presentation for healthcare providers to better understand and have greater empathy with the struggles of elderly patients.
“There was a good amount of audience participation as we had them experience sensory deficits,” Williams said. “We smeared Vaseline on glasses and asked them to read operative permits and then sign in with their non-dominant hand. They placed cotton balls in their ears and tried to understand a rushed explanation of their medications they would take at home. They each had a pill bottle filled with multi-colored M&Ms with confusing instructions.”
The program was so popular and effective, they were asked to present it for various medical groups and at statewide conventions and technical schools, she said. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a story about their program, and she was additionally contacted by professionals across the country and as far away as Australia.
In addition to her position at St. Anthony’s, she is also an adjunct faculty member at Webster University in St. Louis, where she currently teaches “Strategies to Facilitate Learning” in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.
“My favorite moments are when I have someone I’ve interacted with or taught come back and tell me of how they applied what they learned in a patient situation,” she said.
Williams also tries to make an impact abroad through volunteer efforts. She recently joined a mission trip to Cambodia and taught parents and children about preventing and relieving choking as well as about proper handwashing. She also assisted dentists filling cavities and extracting teeth as well as encouraged brushing of teeth to prevent cavities.
She also has served on the national board of directors for the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN).
“Through my work with them, I continue to serve in a variety of roles such as a facilitator at our National Teaching Institute, a senior reviewer for the national Beacon Award of Excellence and other initiatives as they arise,” Williams said.
The experiences Williams had while at Southeast prepared her for her current role.
“I served on several campus committees and grew in leadership skills. I was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority and learned so many valuable skills at running meetings, organizing people for events and communication. Those skills served me well in my transition into an educator role,” she said.
Williams received her MSN from Webster University in St. Louis and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau while there. She is certified in critical care through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses with a CCRN-K. She also has her RN-BC certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) in Nursing Professional Development.
Williams encourages others to try new experiences and never stop learning.
“It is okay to be vulnerable. Put yourself out there,” she advises. “Graduation is just the springboard for more opportunities to grow. My greatest satisfaction has been from taking chances. Anytime it doesn’t work out, there is a chance to learn and grow.”