When the Covid-19 health crisis thrust this profession into the eye of a health-care storm, these medical experts exhibited the dedication, compassion and high standards to support and protect our communities.
In this, our annual Excellence in Nursing list, in partnership with the DAISY Foundation, we honor 298 medical professionals from New Jersey with diverse practice specialties at more than 70 participating hospitals and facilities.
Click here to view the complete list of 2021 DAISY Award honorees from our state, five of whom we spotlight below.
Samantha Funk • BSN, RN
Jefferson Hospital, Cherry Hill
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference in the lives of patients.
That was the case when Samantha Funk discovered that her elderly patient wasn’t eating. His doctors had ordered a feeding tube to be inserted because he was refusing to eat. Funk said the man, who was acting confused, had already been on the floor for six days after being transfered there from the hospital’s rehab facility.
“He kept telling me that he’d lost his teeth. I don’t know if other people didn’t take him seriously?” she says.
So she called over to rehab to see if he’d left anything there and was told that they had his things, which included his dentures. Once the patient had those back, he was able to start eating again—and didn’t need the feeding tube after all.
“It was so simple. It only took five minutes out of my day to call over and see if they had his teeth,” she says. “He would have had the procedure otherwise. I was happy I was able to prevent him from going through it. I think I was more excited than him!”
It was actions like this one that made Funk, who is 27 years old, stand out for her excellence in nursing.
Funk, who grew up in Bellmawr and now lives in Gloucester City, says it was her grandmother who inspired her to become a nurse. When her grandmother became sick with cancer, Funk says she was frustrated that she couldn’t do more to help her.
“As I was growing up, I always loved helping people, so I knew I wanted to do that. When my grandma passed away, I realized that I wanted to be a nurse and help people who couldn’t help themselves,” she says.
Funk became a nurse in August 2019 and had about six months of normalcy before the pandemic hit.
She previously worked in the postoperative medical surgical floor and now works in her hospital’s same-day surgery unit.
Funk says working through the pandemic was definitely challenging, but also rewarding.
“I enjoy nursing because I feel like I’m able to make a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes people are in the hospital for the first time ever, or they’re going through something horrible for them,” Funk says. “I hope I’m able to make their stay a little better during a hard time in their lives. I feel like I’ve done that in small ways just by being there for someone.” —Jacqueline Mroz
Cevan Heath • RN
Bergen New Bridge Medical Center
Cevan Heath’s calm demeanor, empathetic nature and strong faith make him an ideal fit for his position in the adult psychiatric unit of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a pilot,” Heath says. But becoming an aide at the hospital in 2012 “opened my eyes to how I could help people and make a difference in their lives,” he says.
Heath’s current role requires that he interact closely with patients who are suffering from acute mental and/or physical health issues. “Maybe they stopped taking their medication or they’re having some other type of episode like depression,” he says. A voluntary unit, it’s typically a short-stay area, where patients are not confined to their beds, but still require monitoring for conditions like substance abuse, delirium, depression, or even gross psychosis.
Heath recognizes that his patients are experiencing a difficult time in their lives and he handles that information with professionalism and care.
Originally from Jamaica, Heath moved to New Jersey at the age of nine and is now a Sparta resident. “It’s a long commute and long hours,” he says. “But I’ve learned to let faith guide me, especially at work. I always remember I am just like my patients, and I could be in their position tomorrow.
“You learn a lot from people who have been through rough situations,” he says. “They need more than just medication management; they need time to reflect and think and be listened to. As little as two minutes of your time can help someone who really needs it.” —Deborah P. Carter
Lauren Amiro • BSN, RN, CWCN
WOUND CARE CENTER
Atlantic Health Morristown Medical Center
Lauren Amiro had been working comfortably in finance for three years following her graduation from Villanova University. But feelings of helplessness on 9/11, when friends were stuck in New York, inspired her to change her course. “We didn’t have any cell service, so we couldn’t get in touch with people,” she recalls. “I just felt like…there was nothing that I could do to help.”
On a mission to help others, Amiro enrolled in an accelerated nursing program at William Paterson University, where she received a bachelor of science degree. She spent her last clinical rotation at Morristown Medical Center, where she has continued to work for the past 16 years. “I’ve wanted to help others since I was a kid,” says the Bergenfield native, who now lives in Madison. “I think becoming a nurse has really allowed me to do that.”
Amiro spent the early years of her nursing career working with cardiac patients before moving to the newborn intensive care unit, where she spent the majority of her career. Ten years later, when she had her own child, she moved again, to a unit with more flexible hours.
She has since worked at the critical wound center, where she has developed close relationships with returning outpatients and inpatients, particularly during the pandemic.“We spend a lot of time with them one-on-one,” she says. “It was really rewarding, in the sense that we got to take care of them and we were their source of socialization.”
Whether aiding patients with cancer scares or comforting patients over lost spouses, Amiro aims to put people at ease during difficult times. “If I’m able to lift the spirits of someone and make them smile, that’s a win for me,” she says. —Falyn Stempler
James J. Ziemba • RN, MA, CRRN
JFK University Medical Center, Edison
Long before Jim Ziemba entered the health care industry, he worked a sales and marketing job. At one of the company’s annual meetings, Ziemba remembers a presentation where a spotlight highlighted a package on the stage. The company referred to the box as “our guest of honor” and said it was to be treated with timeliness, care and respect. “Although I understood what they were saying,” he says, “to call a package a guest of honor just didn’t hit me in the right place.”
A few years later, Ziemba found that while he didn’t hate his job, he didn’t love it, either. A career counselor recommended nursing. He began connecting with people in the field and, in 1991, enrolled in a nursing program. He also began working as an aide at Edison’s JFK Medical Center, a role that provided him with bedside experience and a new perspective on his former employer’s motto. “I want to treat each of these patients as a guest of honor,” Ziemba says now.
The 60-year-old Iselin native and Hillsborough resident has spent the last 30 years at JFK and has worked in the hospital’s orthopedic unit since 2003.
Ziemba had to learn the clinical aspects of nursing—blood work, testing, procedures—as he went about his 12-hour shifts, but he believes his sales background taught him how to connect with people and build trust. Those skills leave his patients feeling cared for, while he continues to find joy in his second career.
“Every day I leave work, I am fulfilled,” Ziemba says. “Sometimes very tired, sometimes exasperated, but I never feel like I’ve left work without making a difference in someone’s life.” —Gary Phillips
Karen Nunn • BSN, RN-BC
St. Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick
Working in the metabolic unit of a hospital can be challenging for anyone not used to the heavy workflow, but Karen Nunn says the work has made her a great multitasker. She cares for patients who have suffered strokes, seizures and cardiac issues, while also juggling phone calls, coordinating with other departments and doctors, and providing bedside care.
“I believe that our unit is the busiest,” says Nunn. “We have a 40-bed capacity, and our patient population ranges from 8 to 100, sometimes 105-year-olds. A metabolic nurse cannot be shy and timid.”
Nunn and her family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1987, in the middle of a nursing shortage. A teenager at the time, she was inspired by her parents to go into a career in nursing. “They showed me and my siblings the value of hard work, perseverance, the importance of education—and they’re the most patient and caring people,” says Nunn.
For Nunn, nothing is more important than the nurse-patient relationship. She sees herself as the bridge between patient and doctor, so she communicates with the patients to ease their fears and provide proper care.
Carrying a heavy workload while forming good relationships with patients can be a challenge, but Nunn credits the team effort of the staff for making the job easier, and she compares her work in the metabolic unit to the theme from Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” says Nunn. —Thomas Neira