Awards | Nursing

This article celebrates the 2023 Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina ECU Health honorees. The Great 100 Nurses in North Carolina honors the nursing profession by recognizing nurses around the state for their commitment to excellence. The recipients are distinguished for their outstanding professional ability as well as their contributions to improving health care services in their communities. This year’s 13 ECU Health honorees are below.

Ann Brabble

Elizabeth “Ann” Brabble described herself as a “small town girl” who enjoys her work as a nurse in the ambulatory surgery unit at ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital. “Some of our patients have never had surgeries before,” Brabble explained. “They’re scared. But you calm their fears and then see them in Wal-Mart, or they come in for another surgery and ask you to be their nurse.”

Brabble said growing up with her grandparents living with her influenced her decision to become a nurse: “When they got sick, my grandparents moved in and lived with us from when I was 12 or 13 and up. It was at that time I said I wanted to be a nurse, and I never changed my mind.”

Although Brabble loves her current position in outpatient surgery, she has worked in a variety of nursing areas for 37 years, 27 of which have been with ECU Health. “I worked in pediatrics for about 11 years,” Brabble said, “But I enjoy working with patients having surgery: providing the preparation and education to them and their families.”

What helps her in this work, Brabble said, is her faith and the support of her family. In addition to her work on outpatient surgery, Brabble also cross trains in chemotherapy, the outpatient clinic and outpatient lab testing.

“Nursing is about teamwork,” Brabble said when asked about being honored as a Great 100 Nurse of North Carolina. “If we didn’t have a good team, none of what we do would be successful. I try to do every day what is right for my patients, providers, family and co-workers. I wish I could take my whole team with me; I have co-workers who deserve it more than me.”

Brabble also acknowledged that having 13 honorees from the ECU Health system is significant. “It speaks highly of the team members who are striving every day to do the best they can, even in bad situations,” Brabble noted. “You don’t do it for recognition, but it shows that the organization supports team members.”

Brabble does her own work to support student and new nurses. “You have to come in to this not just for the money, but with compassion and care,” Brabble explained. “I tell that to all of my students. Don’t forget about the patient in the bed by focusing on the computer. I teach them to make eye contact and talk to the patient.” Brabble said she credits her own mentors for learning these important skills. “I had excellent preceptors who took me on this journey. Every transition I’ve made, I’ve had people I can refer back to.” Even now, Brabble said she learns something new every day. “New things come out all the time. And I learn things from the new graduates. We might all do the same skill but with a different technique, and you learn from each other what works best for you. Having an excellent team every day makes me successful.”

Emily Nock

Emily Nock wasn’t sure at first what her path in life was supposed to be. “I thought I wanted to be an accountant, and then I thought I wanted to work in public health,” Nock said. “I ended up going to UNC at Chapel Hill to study psychology. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I realized what I wanted to be.”

Nock’s mother is a nurse, but while growing up, Nock said she thought she wanted to do something else. “In the back of my mind, my mom was a fantastic nurse and a role model, and I thought I could never live up to her greatness,” Nock shared.

After graduating from UNC, however, Nock worked in the Behavioral Health Unit at ECU Health Medical Center, which is where she said her love for helping others truly blossomed. Nock added that having that experience secured her desire to pursue nursing. “I come from a sheltered and privileged upbringing, so to see what many people struggle with – homelessness, mental illness, no family support – it was completely life changing.”

From there, Nock applied for and was accepted into the ECU Accelerated BSN program, from which she graduated in 2016. Nock didn’t want to completely step away from her background in psychology, which is why she chose to work in the neurosciences at ECU Health Medical Center.

“I love the brain and didn’t want to get away from my roots entirely. Seven years later, I still love my patient population so much,” Nock said.

That ECU Health has 13 Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina recipients says a lot about the health system, Nock said. “It’s so wonderful that our leaders and teams are excited to celebrate our nurses and give recognition that’s deserved.” What makes winning the award particularly special for Nock is that she’s not the only one in the family to achieve such an honor. “My mom is a Great 100 recipient from 2001,” Nock explained. “I remember when she got dressed up for the gala – she was so proud and it was so special for her to receive this award.”

When Nock found out she was being nominated, she said she initially felt unworthy. “It was humbling and fulfilling to read the nomination – to see all of your hard work written out helps you realize your worth,” Nock said. “I am especially honored to share the gala experience with my mom.”

Alex Owens

Chelsey “Alex” Owens said that while she picked neurosciences as a practice specialty on a whim, she doesn’t regret the decision. “What I like most about my unit are my co-workers and the patients,” Owens said. “The patient population isn’t the easiest, but we have great teamwork and that makes the shifts smooth.”

Owens graduated with her associate’s degree in nursing from Beaufort Community College in 2016, and she’s worked in ECU Health Medical Center’s neurosciences unit for the last seven years. Being a nurse is something that Owens said she “always wanted to be.” She followed a nursing career pathway in high school and became a Nurse Aide 1 (NA1) as a senior.

To be nominated for and then to win a Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina award was a shock, Owens said.

“My initial reaction was disbelief. I couldn’t believe I’d been a nurse long enough or accomplished enough to be honored with this once-in-a-lifetime award,” she said.

Still, Owens works hard to support her team and promote her profession. “I am head of our CAUTI quality team, I have participated in the Children’s trick-or-treat event for the past four years, I’ve been a clinical coach for five years and an elite charge nurse for four years and I’m a member of our stroke response team,” Owens said. “If my manager needs anything, she can depend on me.”

The honorees will be honored at a statewide gala in October, to be held in Raleigh.

​Dana Byrum

Dana Byrum has been a nurse for 23 years, but her career with ECU Health began in 1996, when she worked in medical records. “Initially, I wanted to be a teacher,” Byrum admitted. “But as I continued working in medical records, I was drawn to patient care.”

Her work in medical records gained the attention of the nurse manager on the medical surgical unit. “Whenever I saw her in medical records, I asked a lot of questions about health care topics I read or heard about. She encouraged me to be a nursing assistant, and she and the other nurses took me under their wings and educated me on patient care – not only as a nursing assistant, but also about the impact a nurse can make,” Byrum shared. That support led Byrum to ultimately pursue her nursing degree. “I am fully HomeGrown,” Byru​m said. “I got my AND, BSN, MSN and DNP all with the support of ECU Health.”

After working as a bedside nurse on the medical surgical unit, the ambulatory surgical unit and the outpatient specialty clinics, and after serving as the assistant manager, and later manager, of the ambulatory surgical and outpatient specialty clinics, Byrum assumed the role of director of nursing and is now the vice president of patient care services at Bertie and Chowan hospitals. “Being in a leadership role is being a voice for our front-line nurses and our patients,” Byrum said. “I’m advocating for and empowering nurses to provide the highest quality of care so that our patients have optimal outcomes.”

Byrum said the way she does that is by spending time on the floors with her nurses. “I round frequently in our departments and get that face-to-face time with the nurses,” Byrum explained. “I learn about the challenges they face and how I can help address those.” And, Byrum noted, just because she became a nurse doesn’t mean she doesn’t get to be a teacher. “I have served as adjunct faculty for our local community college and have done a lot of education in my roles. As a front-line nurse, I was the eyes and ears of my patients and served as an advocate for them. I was able to spend time with them and their families, educating them about their care. There was no greater feeling than to know I helped a patient improve their health care or quality of life,” Byrum said. In her current role, Byrum now looks for ways to develop her colleagues into leaders. “I had great mentors along the way and I want to give back,” she said.

When she learned she’d been named a Great 100 Nurse of North Carolina, Byrum said she was excited. “I feel like I’ve worked hard to be a great person and a great nurse; it was exciting to see the contributions I’ve made being recognized.” Byrum was quick to say that receiving such an honor is humbling, and it’s a reflection of the passion she feels for her work. “I genuinely love what I do,” Byrum shared. “I love that I’m responsible for the patient care in two facilities, and I’m able to nurture front-line nurses as well as grow and mentor nurse managers to be great leaders. The fact that I can walk the floor and talk to team members, and then take that information to the board room to make creative solutions that improve those nurses’ day-to-day activities, which leads to high quality patient care – there’s nothing more important.”

Elaine Henry

Elaine Henry, the manager of Children’s surgical subspecialists at ECU Health Medical Center, has worked at ECU Health since graduating from ECU in 1996. Prior to her current role, Henry worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit for 18 years, followed by three years in pediatric surgery quality improvement and four years in quality for women and children’s. She received her MSN from ECU in 2019 in nursing leadership.

Henry said her clinical rotations led her to the neonatal world and she loved it immediately. “It’s the most rewarding career,” she said. “Even in the worst situations, we can comfort and take care of our patients and their families.” Henry observed that children she saw as patients early in her career are now grown up and having kids of their own. “I recently went to a baby shower for one of my former NICU patients,” Henry said. “It’s such a privilege to care for these babies and watch them get well.”

Henry’s role in quality now gives her a more global perspective about the impact of nursing. “I get to see the improvements we’ve made in health care and in the NICU. I feel like my role is so important; I’m a leader impacting the clinical care in the NICU and across Children’s.”

When she found out she was a Great 100 Nurses honoree, Henry said she was humbled and surprised. “I was so excited I started jumping up and down,” Henry shared. “I have a twin sister who is also a nurse at ECU Health, and I had to text her.” Receiving such recognition is an honor, she said, especially considering the quality of nurses at ECU Health. “There are so many great nurses here,” she explained. “I am proud of my profession and to be a nurse at ECU Health. To be recognized across the state means a lot, and it represents who we are as an organization.”

Katie Knowles

“Service is my love language,” said Katie Knowles, a quality nurse specialist at ECU Health Duplin Hospital, when asked why she chose to go into nursing. When her grandfather had to deal with a misdiagnosed stroke, it solidified her decision to work in health care. “His quality of life would have been so much better if he had received treatment in a timely manner,” Knowles said. After that experience, Knowles attended NC State considering a pre-med route, but a rotation in pediatrics showed her that nurses did the work she was really interested in. She returned home and first attended James Sprunt Community College for her ADN before transferring to the University of Mount Olive for her BSN. She later graduated with her MSN and the realization that her calling was to stay and work in her hometown. “ECU Health gave me the avenue to best serve my community, and it allowed me to become the person and nurse I wanted to be,” Knowles said.

Now an ECU Health team member for 10 years, Knowles said she loves her work in quality.

“I look at the unit, processes, people and problems. And I work to put things in place to make them better for patients and the team,” Knowles shared. She is quick to note that it’s not just her work that gets things done. “No one person changes things alone; it takes a bunch of people working towards the same goal. That’s how you get big change and impact our patients and families.”

Knowles said she was in shock when she found out she was a Great 100 Nurse of North Carolina. “Just to know someone nominated me was huge,” Knowles said. “I’m a person who doesn’t like being in the spotlight. I’m receiving this award on the back of other nurses who’ve worked just as hard, if not harder – not for an award, but because they want to change the lives of the people they help.” Knowles said the honor also means a great deal to her family. “It is emotional because it’s not just for me – it’s for my family and my community. And it shows my kids that the work you do is important, that it matters. That makes this award extra special to me.”

Doing that work in a rural community is especially important, Knowles said. “ECU Health serves 29 rural counties. In Raleigh there’s a doctor on every corner; here there is one provider for every 4,000 people. These patients are underserved, but ECU Health is pouring its resources into those areas and covering more territory than any system in the state.” That service drives Knowles to be the best she can be. “To be a small part of such a big team that’s putting employees and communities first – it’s exciting.”

Jennifer Kendrick

Jennifer Kendrick has worked at ECU Health since 2018, but she’s been a nurse since graduating from the University of Western Ontario in 1994. She is currently a perinatal outreach coordinator, and she provides obstetrical education to clinicians and providers to improve the health and well-being of maternal and childbearing families in eastern North Carolina. While working in this field wasn’t necessarily something Kendrick knew she wanted to do from the beginning, she spent a rotation during college in labor and delivery and found her passion there.

After working as a bedside nurse for more than 20 years, Kendrick found herself with the opportunity to educate new and current nurses and other providers. “I started with teaching CPR in the early 2000s,” Kendrick said. “Now I educate providers in obstetrics, and I take clinical students from ECU to the OB floor at Nash.” Kendrick said she’s been asked by the American Academy of Family Physicians international forum to teach an Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics course in Palestine in November of this year. She’s also pursuing her DNP, with plans to graduate next year.

Kendrick said it’s an honor for her hard work to be recognized as a Great 100 Nurses honoree. “It’s humbling to be recognized for the passion I have for what I do and the great need for it,” Kendrick admitted. “We work in some of the poorest, toughest, most socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.” She pointed out that she’s not the only one doing this valuable work, and that having so many nurses from ECU Health to be recognized is important. “It speaks to the level of expertise we have in our systems, and the fact that we’re willing to see it and recognize each other,” Kendrick said. “There is phenomenal work going on in eastern North Carolina.”

Kimberly Lupton

Kimberly Lupton has been a nurse for 37 years and is currently a CSO assistant nurse manager for nursing assistants at ECU Health Medical Center. That experience, Lupton said, is what might have inspired her manager to nominate her as a Great 100 Nurse of North Carolina. “My manager said she appreciated my extensive nursing career and had not only heard, but has seen first-hand the lives that had been touched,” Lupton said. “I have never been someone who likes to be in the spotlight. As a nurse, you often make light of how you support and inspire others, and you take a back seat.”

Although she began her health care journey thinking she’d pursue dentistry, Lupton said her mother was the one who knew all along she’d make a great nurse. “When I was in high school, my mom often encouraged me to become a nurse and said she believed I’d never regret it. She was 100% correct. I started in pre-dentistry, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea,” Lupton said. “Being a nurse is not a job; it’s a calling. And I love it.”

Now Lupton takes the knowledge she’s gained during her career and is sharing it with new nursing assistants and nurses. “I enjoy mentoring,” Lupton shares. “That’s why I’m an adjunct instructor at Pitt Community College. I love seeing students grow, better themselves and achieve their goals.”

Lupton said that when she received the Great 100 Nurses letter, she opened it in private. “I really thought it was a letter congratulating me for being nominated,” she laughed. “It was such a surprise, I wondered if the letter was sent by mistake. I was apprehensive about sharing it with anyone until I was sure it was authentic.” Being an honoree, Lupton said, only shows the quality of nursing care at ECU Health. “There are so many nurses here who are deserving,” she said. “Some of the finest nurses in the nation work here. It’s an example of what a great organization we have, the care we give and the experience you’ll receive as a patient.”

Donnie Johnson

Donnie Johnson’s nursing career began in the ECU Health Medical Center’s emergency department (ED) more than 14 years ago. His personal and family experience working as a volunteer firefighter and a paramedic drew him to work in the ED. Pursuing a nursing degree seemed a logical next step, and now Johnson is wrapping up his PhD with Liberty University. “I loved the fast pace and critical thinking of the ED,” Johnson said. “The lifesaving interventions make an impact.”

Since 2017, Johnson has worked as a professional development specialist for emergency services, which allows him to take his clinical experiences and share them with new cohorts of nursing students and nurses. “I enjoy education and nursing, so this allows me to pair both while impacting the unit, organization, system and the nursing profession as a whole,” Johnson explained. “Education is the great equalizer. I might not be at the bedside but I’m helping develop, grow, prepare and nurture nurses no matter where they go.”

That investment, Johnson said, is a way of giving back to the community in which he lives. “I have an interest in making sure our students are prepared, because one day my family or I will be a patient. I want to ensure all patients receive good care.” That carries over to Johnson’s work in education outside of ECU Health, where he will teach part time with ECU’s College of Nursing this fall.

Johnson said he was surprised when he learned he was being nominated by his manager and colleagues for the Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina. “ECU Health is consistently promoting and advancing the profession of nursing,” Johnson said, something he strongly believes in. “I hope my manager, director and administrator saw in me a commitment to the organization and the profession, to helping our nurses grow and develop a passion for nursing,” Johnson said. “I try to be a role model within our department that others can come to for help.”

That commitment is seen across the organization, Johnson said. “By having so many nurses at ECU Health recognized, it shows we are actively living our vision and mission every day. We are holding ourselves to a higher standard.”

Lindsay Caddell

Lindsay Caddell, staff nurse in the NICU at ECU Health Medical Center, graduated from East Carolina University with her BSN and started working at ECU Health in 2015.

She serves as a bedside nurse, but she also plays other roles, including precepting new nurses, acting as a charge nurse, chairing the bereavement team in the NICU and teaching in the STABLE program, which represents the six assessment and care modules used in the program: sugar/safe care, temperature, airway, blood pressure, lab work and emotional support.

A visit to see her cousin in the NICU when Caddell was in middle school sparked her interest in nursing. “I did some school projects after that, then went to nursing school and knew I wanted to work in the NICU.”

Caddell said now she can’t imagine working anywhere else or in any other setting. “I built a family here,” she explained. “I have close friends and feel comfortable and confident. I have other people’s backs, and they have mine. Our team is great.” Part of her success comes from the mentorship she received. “I wouldn’t be here today without the people who precepted me and mentored me.” Caddell said that level of support and skill makes it unsurprising that 13 ECU Health nurses have been recognized by The Great 100 Nurses. “It shows we have a great team, especially in the NICU. It speaks to the focus each of us has on passing along the knowledge that was given to us. It’s an environment of education and mentorship.”

Caddell said she didn’t know she’d been nominated for The Great 100 Nurses, so receiving the award letter was a true surprise. “I was honored,” she said. “I know other nurses in the NICU and the hospital who have been honorees, and I respect them. Knowing I was chosen to be alongside nurses of that caliber was exciting.” Caddell hopes that being honored as a younger nurse would inspire new nurses as they began their careers. “It’s humbling to represent the NICU, but also to show younger nurses that there are things you can achieve as a younger nurse.”

Jenny Wester

Jenny Wester named several reasons for becoming a nurse, but a four-week stay in the hospital after breaking her femur when she was 12 made her confident nursing was the right career path. “I was in traction, and it’s hard to be 12 and not able to move for four weeks,” Jenny said. “But my nurses treated me wonderfully and tried to make every day a good one. I thought, that’s the kind of nurse I want to be.” One nurse in particular, Mary Beth, made a strong impression, and the two stayed in touch well beyond Wester’s hospital stay. “I kept up with her, and when I graduated from nursing school, she sent me a pair of gold scissors. That meant a lot.”

Wester has worked at ECU Health Medical Center since 1998 in pediatrics, and she said she’s never thought about going anywhere else. “I love this environment and my peds family,” she explained. “ECU Health has been really good to me.” Her work at ECU Health offered flexibility and opportunities to grow. “I had a good work/life balance when my kids were younger and I could adjust my schedule,” Wester shared. “I was able to attend professional conferences, and they paid for me to go back to school to get my BSN.”

Wester attributed her success in part to strong mentor relationships during her career. “I’ve had wonderful mentors, and I wouldn’t be here without them. Now I take ownership of helping our new nurses, and I’m often called ‘Mama Jenny’ on the unit.” Wester said above all, she’s proud of her profession. “I’m so blessed to take care of my patients, and I’m proud to be a nurse. I want for all of our nurses to take pride in who they are and what we can do as a group.”

When she found out she was named a Great 100 Nurse, Wester was humbled and surprised. “I thought, they must not have had as good of an applicant pool this year if I won,” she laughed. Wester said she doesn’t think she does anything that her colleagues don’t also do. “I was taught to work hard,” Wester said. “In 25 years, there’s not a thing I’ve done around here I expected recognition for.”

Rhiannon Stallings

Rhiannon Stallings, a perinatal nurse navigator at ECU Health Medical Center, said that for as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a nurse. “As I went through nursing school, I decided I wanted to work in obstetrics, and here I am.” After working for a few years at a smaller hospital immediately after graduation, Stallings joined ECU Health and has been here for the last 10 years. Stallings began as a bedside nurse but transitioned three years ago into the perinatal nurse navigator role, which, she said, allows her to impact many patients every day. “I work with antepartum patients, some of whom are admitted for long stays. I go on rounds with OB providers and ensure patients have the consu​lts and education they need. I coordinate cardiac OB patients, who sometimes need special delivery plans to account for their cardiac diagnoses. I get to know the patients ahead of time, but I also go out into the community to meet regional hospitals’ patients’ needs.”

When she learned she’d been named a Great 100 Nurse of North Carolina, Stallings said, “I cried. It was an honor just to be nominated. To have my work recognized – it made me know I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I really enjoy my work and the patients I touch.”

However, Stallings insisted she doesn’t do more than any other nurse at ECU Health. “We have so many nurses who provide great care and want the best outcomes for their patients,” Stallings said. “We love what we do, and we help our patients get through those tough times.” That teamwork, Stallings said, is key to quality care. “I couldn’t do what I do without the interdisciplinary team that’s around me and the administration that supports me. I’m truly thankful for the nurses and providers who support and believe in me.”