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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Nursing and the Advancement of Nursing Programs
May 10, 2011

Dr. Petzel, thank you for your leadership and that refreshingly brief introduction.

  • Michelle Terry and Chaplain Pollitt, thank you for an inspiring start to today’s recognition ceremony;

  • Deputy Secretary Scott Gould, Chief of Staff John Gingrich, and Assistant Secretary Joe Riojas;

  • Cathy Rick, Chief Nursing Officer, and VA’s superb corps of nurses: Thank you for reminding us about the importance of nursing, by keeping it visible, and by keeping its standards high. Events like today’s tribute to the best in VA nursing is a great way to celebrate all three;

  • Let me also acknowledge Major General Patty Horoho, 23rd Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Deputy Surgeon General, and the President’s nominee to be the 43rd Surgeon General of the Army. Thank you for attending today’s ceremony;

  • Colonel Linda Connelly, Deputy Chief Nurse, DIMA, Department of Defense; and our other DoD associates;

  • Representatives of our Veteran Service Organizations, including Dave Gorman, Executive Director, Disabled American Veterans;

  • Most importantly, our six award recipients:

    • Faith Andrulot, Harry S. Truman Veterans Hospital, Columbia, Missouri;

    • Karie Drollinger, VA Illiana Healthcare System, Danville, Illinois;

    • Linda Hudson, VA Maryland Healthcare System, Perry Point, Maryland;

    • Christie Locke, VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon;

    • Mary Walters, Southern Arizona VA Healthcare System, Tucson, Arizona;

    • And Michael Winn, Director, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Little Rock, Arkansas:

  • Greetings to each of you, your families, your friends, and your colleagues, both here and back home;

  • Other members of VA, both those here at 810 Vermont and at distant viewing locations throughout the VA footprint;

  • Fellow Veterans, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Good morning, and welcome. It’s good to see all of you. I am most honored to be here to help recognize the six outstanding professionals, who exemplify this year’s best in VA nursing and our commitment, as a department, to excellence in all that we do in caring for Veterans.

Nursing: RN, BSN, DNP, MS, CNOR, LPN, NA, APRN, NEA/BC. These suffixes are the credentials that accompany our nursing honorees—abbreviated titles that describe the distinctions in the profession and distinguish the accomplishments of our five nursing honorees. You all see these abbreviations and immediately recognize what they mean. To laymen like me, they look like the orders of British knighthood conferred by the Queen. I can only guess at what they represent, but I am convinced that we have our own royalty.

Someone once described nursing as “the hospitality of the hospital” — it’s all about people, not just caring for them, but comforting them, as well.

This Thursday is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, who came to personify caring and comforting as she ministered to British soldiers during the Crimean War at a hospital in Turkey. As most of you know, soldiers called her “the lady with the lamp,” because of her habit of walking the wards at night, long after everyone else had gone to bed. That kind of devotion to one’s patients, far beyond the requirements of daily routine, was a Nightingale quality that came to be associated with modern nursing.

I entered the military in June 1965 and deployed to Vietnam for the first time just as the American presence there was surging from less than 20,000 to over 540,000 troops. After two tours in Vietnam, roughly half of the first five years of my service was spent in hospital beds recovering from those combat tours. On those wards, we always appreciated our surgeons, but we loved our nurses.

We saw our surgeons, in the operating rooms and on grand rounds and respected their surgical skills, but our nurses were with us every day, every step of the way, good days and bad, and on those days when you didn’t think you could gut it out anymore. And on those days when we were wrestling with the “jerk factor” in us, nurses helped us get it out of our system—till the next time, of course. Docs were quick to medicate; nurses were tougher.

For the severely injured and seriously ill, nurses represented a sense of competence and confidence that comes with daily routines—and the belief in better days to come. Nurses remained the brightest spots in our encounters with medical care. Florence Nightingale’s standards of care and comfort have been very much a part of the VA experience since nursing began here over 80 years ago. And those standards have only continued to rise in the years since.

VA nurses have made direct, unique, and far reaching contributions for better care, with improvements like the bar-coding of medications, an electronic hand-off tool for patients in our polytrauma centers, and the involvement of doctorally prepared nurses in medical research.

The six people we honor today carry on that great tradition. They represent diverse aspects of the nursing profession: clinical care, palliative care, surgical nursing, women’s health, and nurse executives. They include three registered nurses, a nurse practitioner, a doctor of nursing, a licensed practical nurse, a nurse assistant, and a medical center director. That’s what all those abbreviations translate to.

Some came to our attention by performing nursing duties that all of us can appreciate. Others achieved things so technical that only a handful of clinicians could explain them. But all have been uncommonly successful in serving Veterans and assisting others in serving them.

To our awardees: We are all very proud of you and your accomplishments, and grateful for all that you have contributed to the safety and quality of VA healthcare. Congratulations to each of you for this well-deserved honor.

May God bless those who serve and have served in uniform. May God bless our nurses for the care and compassion they provide to our sick and injured. And may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.

Thank you.