Excellence in Nursing 2023: Meet 4 Exceptional Health Champions

We salute a group of New Jerseyans who provide us comfort like no other.

Nurse Gabriella Chilelli at Cooper University Healthcare in Camden
After experiencing the continual care of nurses firsthand when she was in high school, Gabriella Chilelli realized she wanted to help people in the same way. Photo by Erik Rank

In this, our annual Excellence in Nursing list, in partnership with the DAISY Foundation, we honor 302 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 2022 DAISY Award honorees from our state, four of whom we spotlight below.

Gabriella Chilelli • RN, BSN


Cooper University Healthcare, Camden

Gabriella Chilelli faced a unique challenge with her first job after nursing school: She started her career in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

Chilelli says she knew she wanted to become a nurse ever since the nine-month period in high school when she was in and out of her doctor’s office. The nurses she encountered were all genuinely caring and made her feel comfortable during her visits, and she realized she wanted someday to help people in the same way.

“Everyone showed how much they cared about me. They wanted to see me get better and back to my normal lifestyle. They were very diligent and trying to figure out what was going on, and I thought, I want to be able to do that for someone else,” says Chilelli. “I wanted to be able to nurse someone back to health, get them back onto their feet and help them during such a difficult, vulnerable time.”

Chilelli works in the trauma unit, where patients need extra care from their health care providers. While the workload can be a lot at times, she credits her team for always being there for each other and willing to lend a hand where needed. Chilelli says even administration will step in to help carry out duties if the nursing staff is overwhelmed with patients.

“You have to learn how to rely on people and trust your coworkers,” says Chilelli. “I’ve developed great relationships and friendships with my coworkers. Not everyone has that luxury.” —Thomas Neira

Erin Ciklic • RN


Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston

Nurse Erin Ciklic outside Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston

Erin Ciklic says she can’t imagine a life where she isn’t a nurse. Photo by Erik Rank

Erin Ciklic has always had a heart for others. “Whenever anyone got hurt when I was little, I always wanted to put a Band-Aid on,” she says. Ciklic grew up in Livingston, earned a degree from Seton Hall University, and has worked at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center for the past 21 years. She has been leading her team as charge registered nurse since 2018.

Ciklic says she can’t imagine a life where she isn’t a nurse. She says it can be difficult, especially when patients have a recurrence and need to have cancer treatment again. “I give them a big hug, and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry you’re here again, but I’m so glad I’m able to take good care of you again.’” From discussing individualized cancer wellness to physical, mental, spiritual and holistic support, Ciklic is happy to give them access to “anything they can do to get their body and mind to get through [treatment].” For Ciklic, it is an honor to be in this line of work, where patients trust her with their care. She doesn’t take the responsibility lightly. —Olivia Bardo

Sheela Alex  RN


University Hospital Newark

Nurse Sheela Alex outside University Hospital Newark

As a pediatric nurse in her hospital’s trauma center, Sheela Alex engages in “compassionate work” with both children and their parents. Photo by Erik Rank

Sheela Alex treats all her patients as if they were her own children. Alex works as a pediatric nurse in the trauma center. She says that it is heartbreaking to see children go through difficult moments, but she feels led to what she calls “compassionate work.” Alex feels she makes a difference by spending time to engage with children and give them the care they need. “I try to spend time with them, play with them, and talk to the parents [about] their concerns,” Alex says, adding that part of her job is talking to parents when their children experience crises—“Because I am a parent, too.”

Growing up in Kerala in southern India, she recalls accompanying her mother to the hospital, where she would see nurses in beautiful white uniforms. “I thought, Oh my God, I should be like her. She smiles, she’s happy, she walks so fast and [takes] care of patients.

Alex studied nursing in New Delhi. After completing her training in 1987, she moved to Kuwait, then immigrated to the United States with her husband and two children in 2004, where she continued working as a nurse.

Alex says that, through her faith, she feels called to care for others. On the job, she hopes to embody some of the qualities of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who cared for the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.

Now, Alex’s own daughter is a nurse. Alex says, “She saw how her mom works hard.” —OB

Joseph Mazzone • ASN, RN


Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset

Nurse Joseph Mazzone outside obert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Somerset

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” says Joseph Mazzone. Photo by Erik Rank

Joseph Mazzone was working as a security officer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Somerset when he realized he wanted to do more to help people. Prior to security, Mazzone had worked as an EMT for the hospital, a job, he says, that was a pivotal inspiration to ultimately pursue nursing.

In 2005, Mazzone began working as a certified nursing assistant, eventually enrolling in Raritan Valley Community College’s nursing program. This October, Mazzone will celebrate his 19-year tenure at the hospital. “I’ve always had an interest in the medical field,” says Mazzone. “I wanted a secure career, but also wanted to give back. I’ve always wanted to help people.”

When patients don’t have visitors during their stays,  Mazzone says he goes out of his way to compensate, by treating each patient with kindness and providing compassionate care. “I treat them the way [I’d like] my family to be treated if they were in that situation,” says Mazzone. “Sometimes family members can’t be there, and [nurses] have to be their advocates, give them comfort and hold their hands through anything.” —TN

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