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Nursing Award Winner: Dr. LaDonna Thomas

On May 10, 2022

Dr. LaDonna Thomas

Recipient of the Health eCareers National Nurses Week Award

Durham VA Health Care System

Chief of Staff Department/Community Care Unit

Congratulations to Dr. LaDonna Thomas, winner of the Health eCareers National Nurses Week Award! This award is given to three nurses who go above and beyond the call of duty in providing compassionate care to their patients and making a significant difference to the profession of nursing. Each year, this prestigious award will honor three exceptional nurses with a monetary reward of $1,000.

Dr. Thomas’ supervisor, Indira Velasquez, wrote this impressive nomination highlighting Thomas’ exemplary work and leadership especially among APRNs:

“Dr. Thomas is the first Chief Nurse Practitioner (NP) appointed at the Durham VA. Under her leadership, Full Practice Authority (FPA) was implemented as a way of pioneering new pathways to NP autonomy, conquering a major milestone, moving her facility towards one of the first in North Carolina to become full practice.  Her dedication to implementing FPA created autonomy for over 120 NPs, allowing NPs to practice to the full extent of their education and training without physician supervision, removing barriers such as mandatory collaboration agreements regulated by individual state statute. She has sustained Full Practice Authority for over 120 Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) at the Durham VA Health Care System (DVAHCS). This is another example of her astounding leadership, leading APRNs as licensed independent practitioners in learning how to maintain their new privileges and responsibilities which were not common as dependent providers. She also collaborated with various departments to ensure there were safe and timely APRN practices implemented and followed throughout the DVAHCS and Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN).

She currently holds various leadership roles, at the facility, state, national levels and within her community organizations.  At the facility, she represents all NPs on the Professional Standards Boards, Medical Executive Committee, Protective Peer Review Board and Patient Care Service Council.  At the state level, she is a Board member with her state’s Nursing Regulatory Board. As a mission of protecting the public, Dr. Thomas was elected by her peers in the state of North Carolina in 2020. She represents all Advance Practice Registered Nurses in NC, where she collaboratively participates in the regulation of nursing practice, policy implementation and the oversight of Board related activities.  She published an article with the Board. A combined 156,421 RNs and APRNS received the Bulletin. The publication will have a major impact with North Carolina professional nursing organizations, who subscribe to the bulletin, to include the North Carolina Nurses Association and the North Carolina Organization for Nurse Leaders. This article influences change, showing her trailblazing efforts of removing barriers for NPs. As a Board member, she also collaborates and is a member of National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Dr. Thomas also collaborated with her state’s nursing regulatory Board, the North Carolina Board of Nursing, providing input with updating their website to include a section dedicated to VHA NPs with FPA, allowing all NPs at each sister VA site in North Carolina the appropriate path for updating his/her approval to practice. These are ongoing efforts.

In December 2021, Dr. Thomas received an international Fellowship/certification by examination from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The Fellowship of the Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery RCSI (FFNMRCSI) is exclusively offered by the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and is one of the most prestigious professional qualifications awarded to nurses and midwives. Dr. Thomas was awarded the certification by the Dean of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery and Post Graduate Faculties Board at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland receiving Fellowship by examination with the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery (FFNMRCSI). To qualify for the Fellowship, candidates must complete an examination. After passing the exam, the candidate’s work is reviewed and conferred by the faculty in recognition of their work and achievements in nursing and their contributions to nursing, midwifery, education, healthcare, and research. Additionally, before a candidate can be considered for the examination, candidates must develop an ePortfolio that supports the following concepts: Quality person-centered care by demonstrating clinical initiatives or practice innovation including excellence in the delivery of compassionate care; Professional and clinical experiences for example clinical supervision, mentorship, preceptorship; Evidence of continuous professional development (CPD); Interdisciplinary collaboration for example teamwork, networking, building partnerships.

She has been identified as the subject matter expert for APRNs at the local, state and Veterans VISN levels. As an APRN mentor for this Fellowship, she has initiated a role in mentoring others, VA APRNS (DVAHCS and within the VISN) as well as APRNS outside VHA to prepare for FFNMRCSI examination, by assisting with creating their e portfolio. FFNMRSCI certification is rare within VA and as well as the United States. It is only done through perseverance, sustainably projects/actions, self-selection, and diligence. The portfolio enables the applicant to demonstrate how they have contributed and developed their capacity, competence, and capability across the following domains: Autonomy, Professional and Clinical Leadership, Expertise and Research. This type of mentorship implemented by Dr. Thomas will is beneficial to VHA. It allows more APRNs within DVAHCS to show their contributions to nursing on an international level and will allow more APRNS to obtain a Fellowship/certification in this area. In addition, the knowledge gained by obtaining this international certification will continue to be applied through Dr. Thomas’ work and dedication to initiating and implementing policy, directives, and regulations specifically aligned for the APRN practice. Dr. Thomas will continue to initiate, sustain, and implement multiple changes in processes and is expected to continue to improve the effectiveness of APRN practice while assuming greater responsibilities.

Dr. Thomas was also named by AMSUS (Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the national association of federal health professionals) as 2021 Nurse of the Year across the entire federal healthcare system.  This is the Federal Health Care’s highest honor.  In addition to her clinical expertise, she has demonstrated exceptional initiatives and leadership skills within the VA. She has excellent leadership abilities and her collaboration with a variety of staff in various departments. Her steady progress toward professional goals for the improvement of APRN practice has been evident in her willingness to share best practices and provide her expertise in leading and directing APRNs through the implementation of Full Practice Authority.   She has been a podium, poster presenter, and lecturer at many invited conferences and community events.

In 2020, because of her outstanding leadership, her past role as the March of Dimes Ambassador for NC and her outstanding work as an educator, clinician, and community advocate for health, she was named as one of the Great 100 Nurses in the state of North Carolina. As adjunct professor, she mentors Fellows with developing, pitching ideas to directors, and obtaining IRB approval.  Dr. Thomas established relationships with colleagues for enhancing professional development by creating the “U Reach Out to a Colleague Challenge (UROC Challenge). The challenge has enhanced collegial communication across services, promoted unity, and improved patient and systems outcomes. She was one of the facility’s co-facilitators for the 2020 NP Symposium. Over 1,000 virtual attendees. The event awarded approximately 10,150 free CME credits nationally. In connection with the development of a national curriculum for the Office of Academic Affairs’ (OAA) NP Residency Programs, she developed guidance on VA disability.  Her work has been sustained, as this information was submitted and accepted for inclusion in the national NP curriculum. A veteran was frustrated with not being able to get his supplies.

Enhancing Veteran’s experience, Dr. Thomas collaborated with other VA staff members, developing protocols for an Over-the-Counter OTC self-care program. The innovation is ongoing and will improve access to care by reducing the number of walk-ins, eliminating burden on patient advocates, director’s staff and other professionals called to resolve patient care concerns.  Dr. Thomas displays commitment to patients and families by identifying areas to improve outcomes.  She assisted an emotional caregiver of a WWII veteran needing resources.  Dr. Thomas currently continues to sustain her patient education tool (Caregiver Resource Manual) which was implemented as part of her DNP Capstone Project while at Chatham University. She isolated two problems, caregivers are not knowledgeable about available support resources and assistance is needed deciding the right resource. Sustaining change, she created a partnership with the Perioperative Optimization for Senior Health Clinic, engaging patients, caregivers and continue ongoing support, benefiting over 1000 patients.

COVID-19 Pandemic impacting the wellbeing of staff, Dr. Thomas initiated a role as an NP representative for the COVID-19 Wellness Team.  She performed rounds in the inpatient units, collaborating with other disciplines to include the Chaplain. As a result, staff was informed of the VA mental, spiritual, and physical support offered by VA staff for VA staff. There was positive feedback from staff, as it was requested that rounds be performed during the night shift, to assist the night shift staff. One staff member commented on how she benefited from the virtual yoga sessions which was implemented by the Wellness Team.  These measurable sustained outcomes have outlined Dr. Thomas’ leadership roles reaching beyond VHA into international arenas, maintaining LIP status for VHA NPs, as she continues to demonstrate and perform at an outstanding level as a full-time employee at the DVAHCS.  Her efforts will have a lasting positive effect not only for the 120 APRNs within the DVAHCS, but also VISN 6 where there are over 418 APRNs. She is most deserving of consideration for this award.”

Health eCareers is pleased to present Dr. LaDonna Thomas with this award for her exemplary work. Thank you for all that you do in the profession of nursing.

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