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School of Nursing honors distinguished graduates

Alumni Dec 10, 2020
Image of a person wearing red scrubs, medical ID, and a stethoscope
Image of a person wearing red scrubs, medical ID, and a stethoscope

KOKOMO, Ind. — During a global pandemic, it is more important than ever to honor the health care providers on the front lines.

That’s why the Indiana University Kokomo School of Nursing, together with the IU Alumni Association Kokomo Region, moved forward with its biennial Nurses of Distinction award, even though COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for the traditional recognition ceremony for honorees Raymond Candelaria, Ronda McKay, Trina Phillips-Nelson, Whitney Shepherd, and Julie Smith.

Instead, Dean Susan Hendricks and Benjamin Liechty, director of alumni relations and campus ceremonies, are presenting the awards at their workplaces, or inviting them to campus for a small presentation.

“We felt like these nurse leaders, like many others, needed a lift right now,” said Hendricks. “Nursing professionals are exhausted, and we want to find ways to make sure everybody understands how important they are.”

The awards also recognize the life-changing work IU Kokomo’s nursing graduates are doing, and motivate the future nurses still on campus.

“When people finish their education with us, they often go on to great things,” she said. “We have a lot to be proud of with our alumni, and we want them to know it. We also want our current students to reach high, and think about what they can accomplish in their careers. And what legacy they will leave behind. We hope that hearing the accomplishments of these graduates will inspire them.”

Nurses of Distinction award winners are:

  • Raymond Candelaria, B.S.N. ’15. He is a telemetry medical-surgical nurse at Community Howard Regional Health. A Kokomo resident, he is a certified medical-surgical registered nurse, and is a clinical instructor for IU Kokomo. Patients frequently compliment his nursing skill, teaching ability, kindness, and calm personality. He is currently enrolled in the Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner program.
  • Ronda McKay, B.S.N. ’00, A.S.N. ’93. McKay is chief nursing officer and vice president for patient care services at Community Hospital Munster, a four-hospital system in Northwest Indiana. Under her leadership, the system has gone from 60 percent A.S.N. in management, and now has 100 percent B.S.N. and above, and has improved nurse turnover rate from 20 percent to 13 percent, partially due to a nurse fellow program and a robust nurse residency program. She lives in Munster.
  • Trina Phillips-Nelson, A.S.N. ’98, Community Howard Regional Health. Phillips-Nelson, from Galveston, has been a nurse since 1998, with a specialty in pediatrics. She serves on the pediatric inpatient council and represents pediatrics for the Network Congress with Community Health. She trains new nurses and institutes processes for the unit, always focused on safety and quality of care. She has been a Daisy Award winner and been recognized by many patient families for her exceptional care.
  • Whitney Shepherd, B.S.N. ’10. Shepherd is a nurse home visitor for the Nurse-Family Partnership, part of Goodwill Industries. The Kokomo resident brought the program to Kokomo after its success in Indianapolis. It pairs at-risk first-time expectant mothers with a registered nurse, who mentors the mother through her pregnancy and into the first three years of the child’s life. She was formerly a labor and delivery nurse at Community Howard Regional Health, and is also a certified lactation consultant.
  • Julie Smith, B.S.N. ’90, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Ascension St. Vincent Kokomo. She has served as director/manager of surgery, and led successful restructuring of the readmission testing center, and construction oversight of the Surgery Center. She also restructured nursing units, initiating a $160,000 cost savings and improved patient care, and led a patient experience team to achieve 4 Star Inpatient Services Award. Smith also leads annual student medical missions trips to Haiti.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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