Excellence in Nursing 2024: Meet 4 Exceptional Health Champions

We salute a group of irreplaceable New Jerseyans.

Uzunma Emezua
Oncology nurse Uzunma Emezua Photo: Erik Rank

In this, our annual Excellence in Nursing list, in partnership with the DAISY Foundation, we honor 270 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 2023 DAISY Award honorees from our state, four of whom we spotlight below.

Uzunma Emezua BSN, RN


Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, Somerville

Uzunma Emezua fell into nursing almost by happenstance when she decided to try the nursing program at Rutgers University, Camden. After graduating in 2021, she sought a position at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset and was randomly placed in the oncology department, which she now believes was fate. “I’ve fallen in love; whatever I do in the future will definitely be oncology based.…It’s very interesting [and] rewarding,” she says.

Emezua works in what can be an emotionally taxing department, often dealing with end-of-life patients and people receiving life-altering diagnoses upon admission. “I remember one time I had three [patients pass] at the same time, and it was just a ‘whew’ moment. It’s definitely the emotional part that’s the hardest for me, not the day-to-day operations,” Emezua says. Nevertheless, she still deeply enjoys the work, particularly the human connections she makes while on call. “Just being a listening ear, just being present and [letting them] know there’s someone who’s seen others through it—it just makes me feel good.”

Emezua makes sure to prioritize the comfort of her patients and the worries of their families. A family member recently commented on her care of his mother, “I didn’t know there were still angels out there until I met Uzunma.” Emezua aspires to become a nurse practitioner, but has no intention of leaving oncology. “What gives me the most joy is when a patient is discharged and they say, ‘Thank you so much, you’ve been such a great help, I felt safe here’—that just makes everything that was hard worth it.” —Connor Carlin

Paul McClernan BSN, RN


Virtua Hosptal, Mt. Holly

Paul McClernan

Paul McClernan Photo: Erik Rank

When Paul McClernan was in high school, his grandmother, who lived with his family in Cinnaminson, suffered a medical emergency that left a mark on him. “I just remember how helpful the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) were at calming everyone down and giving her care.” When it came time for McClernan to make a career choice, he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do, but thought becoming an EMT would be a start. It turned out it was a good fit, and he decided to stay in the medical field.

He enrolled first in Rowan College’s community college arm and later matriculated into the university, where he earned his nursing degree. McClernan, who has worked in the intensive care unit, and is now in the emergency department, says his work challenges him to think critically and quickly. “It makes you think about how you would want someone to address things if you were in their situation,” says the 27-year-old Mt. Laurel resident. “It is rewarding to be able to offer comfort when you see people going through a difficult time and to be able to cushion it in some way—if you are able to, you should,” he says.

Still early in his career, McClernan is considering going back to school to study anesthesiology, but for now, he is satisfied with his sometimes hectic career in the ER. “There is not a lot in life that you can control, but you can create a peaceful environment for yourself. When not working, he says he creates peace by painting, taking long walks on the beach, and enjoying his cat, Bianca. —Deborah P. Carter

Jessica Mastrocola BSN

Hackensack Meridian Health-JFK University Medical Center, Edison

Jessica Mastrocola

Jessica Mastrocola Photo: Erik Rank

Jessica Mastrocola knew she wanted to be a nurse since high school. She grew up watching her mom and grandmother work as nurses, and she admired the way they cared for patients—as if their patients were their loved ones. However, she didn’t jump right into nursing. Mastrocola initially studied mechanical engineering and spent her winter and summer breaks working for Marlboro’s fire department as an EMT. She fell in love with it, and it inspired her to pursue nursing. “I liked that, even during someone’s most difficult moment, day or series of days, I could be there to help that person. Being an EMT, you get to do that for a little bit, but then you drop them off at the hospital and you don’t get to follow through with them,” Mastrocola says. “I liked the idea of being able to follow through and see them progress, get better, and hopefully, discharged.”

At 26, Mastrocola got her first job as an emergency trauma nurse at Capital Health in Trenton, where she met her mentor. “Everything I embody is what she taught me and who she is as a nurse,” she says. She recently celebrated three years at JFK University Medical Center, where, as a specialty-care transport nurse, she brings patients in emergencies from hospital to hospital to receive the best care, even if they are “sick and unstable.” In most cases, she says, she has been “able to bring them [to] the services they needed, and they ended up having very good outcomes.”

Even through moments of tragedy, Mastrocola continues to put in the utmost amount of care for patients, and families are grateful for her efforts during some of the most difficult moments of their lives. —Emily Melvin

Mary Jane Genuino DNP, RN-BC

School of Nursing, Felician University

Mary Jane Genuino

Mary Jane Genuino Photo: Erik Rank

While the entire world was tasked with finding resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic, for some, the challenges were greater. As a health care educator, Mary Jane Genuino was acutely aware of the pressure the epidemic was putting on hospitals and workers. Though she had left bedside nursing many years earlier, Genuino, who had earned her doctorate in nursing from Rutgers, was working as the chair of the nursing and patient care programs at Berkeley College while fearlessly volunteering on the front lines.

Genuino and her husband of 27 years contracted the virus in 2020. While she recovered in a few weeks, he lost his life. In response to the grief, Genuino decided not just to return to work, but to bedside care at Valley Hospital. “I needed to help,” she said. “I needed to keep myself relevant and to have interactions with patients and families.”

A tireless professional, Genuino also returned to teaching, joining Felician University as an assistant professor in 2020. “Teaching brings me joy. You see the fruit of your labor years later. When I see students who have become my peers, it lifts my heart,” she says. The Fairlawn resident, who originally studied journalism in her native Philippines, has published several books, including the second edition of a children’s book, Nurse Mayumi in the USA (Book 2), about a young Filipino girl who dreams of becoming a nurse in the United States. “Nursing is a trusted profession that has prominence globally and politically, and nurses will continue to impact health care on many levels,” Genuino says.

In addition to her children’s book, Genuino has also written a book of memories and recipes called Tasting Echoes and Savoring Memories: Nurses’ Narrative of Grief and Comforting Recipes. “It is a compilation of stories and recipes from other nurses who have lost loved ones,” Genuino says. After her loss, writing and playing with her four dogs became her solace, she says. “It was either write another book or get another dog!” Her newest book, Amazing Grace: Navigating the Post 21 Autism Journey, will be out in April. —Deborah P. Carter

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