Minority Nurses Capture Top Awards in National Recognition Program

An RN with a disability who overcame discrimination to achieve a successful nursing career. An African-American Navy nurse who heroically saved the life of a dying Iraqi boy during Operation Iraqi Freedom. What do these two minority nurses have in common? They were the two top prizewinners (RN Category) in the 2004 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Awards, a national recognition program sponsored by health care apparel manufacturer Cherokee Uniforms. The awards honor health care professionals who have touched the lives of others through exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation.

Susan Fleming, BSN, RN, a staff nurse at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., captured the Grand Prize in this year’s awards. Born without a left hand, Fleming realized as a teenager that she wanted to be a nurse. But when she tried to pursue her dream by enrolling in nursing school, she was rejected because of her disability. The school told Fleming there was no way she could perform all the duties required of a nurse. Refusing to give up, she got accepted at a different school, where she proved that she could do pretty much anything with one hand that a two-handed nurse can do.

Fleming, who earned her BSN degree last May from Washington State University Intercollegiate College of Nursing and is now pursuing a master’s at the University of Washington, has become a vocal advocate on behalf of other nurses and nursing students with physical challenges. She is a board member of ExceptionalNurse.com, a non-profit resource network for nurses with disabilities, and has authored articles about making nursing education more accessible to students with disabilities.

The Cherokee program’s second highest RN award, the Top National Prize, went to LT Charles Dickerson, NC, USNR, a U.S. Navy ICU nurse currently working at the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. While serving in Iraq, LT Dickerson rose to the challenge of treating a boy who had been shot in the face by Iraqi militia because his father refused to fight for Saddam Hussein. Although the critically injured child was brought to him with almost no hope for survival, Dickerson played a crucial role in saving the boy’s life through a combination of quick thinking, innovatively applied nursing skills and just plain heroism.

LT Dickerson noticed that the boy’s peak airway pressures were becoming dangerously high, indicating a need for pressure control ventilation. With no way of performing this operation in the field due to lack of equipment, Dickerson recommended trying a combination of carefully titrated paralytics, narcotics and sedatives all at once. The goal was to put the child into a state that would keep him ventilated–a difficult feat even under the best conditions. For the next eight hours, Dickerson stayed at the boy’s side, carefully administering the medicine with a syringe since no IV tubing for children was available.

This year’s winners were selected from nearly 1,700 nominations. For a complete list of winners, and to submit nominations for the 2005 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Awards, visit www.cherokeeuniforms.com.