Three area Genesis Health Systems nurses are among the 100 Great Iowa Nurses for 2021.

The award recognizes nurses who have “made a meaningful and lasting contribution to humanity and to their profession and act as mentors to others.”

Each year, the 100 Great Iowa Nurses program asks patients, co-workers, friends and family members to nominate outstanding nurses for recognition. After undergoing a two-part review process, 100 Great Iowa Nurses are honored at an annual ceremony.

This year’s 100 Great Iowa Nurses will be recognized Sunday, May 2, in a virtual celebration with previous recipients.

They are:

Sharron Gephart, RN, MSN, CV, who is nurse manager for outpatient services at Genesis Medical Center-DeWitt

Dawn Rude, RN, MS, who is nurse manager at Jackson County Regional Health Center, Maquoketa

  Melissa Wilson, RN, who coordinates staff education, employee health, emergency preparedness and infection control at Jackson County Regional Health Center, Maquoketa

Sharron Gephart

For 51-year-old Gephart, her work at Genesis Medical Center-DeWitt includes managing day-to-day operations in the operating room, sterile processing, pre-admitting, post-operative care and the pain clinic.

This is her 30th year with Genesis. 

Her decision to become a nurse evolved from her experience helping a beloved family member.

“When I was a teenager, my grandmother came to stay with us after experiencing a debilitating stroke,” Gephart shared. “I watched, and helped, my mother take care of her. I saw the pride and loving tenderness one can offer another. My parents are the ones who encouraged me to go into nursing. I cannot imagine doing anything else.”

Gephart said she loves being able to listen — truly listen — to a person’s fears and apprehensions and work to alleviate them. 

“Most often, I find patients and their families just want someone to hear them,” she related. “Currently, we have patients call and just want to talk to someone, ask questions and gain a better understanding of their disease process and care.”

When it came to COVID, Gephart said so much was new and unknown. In the beginning, the information was provided to healthcare workers changed daily and at times, was confusing.

“I was sending out emails and texts— several times a day, sometimes — as new information came out,” she recalled. “We changed practices to improve safety, such as wearing masks all the time, cleaning anything that was touched and stopping elective surgeries until we were sure we could continue in a safe environment.”

While Gephart never had experienced anything quite like COVID, she did work in North Carolina in early 1991, and was helping taking care of patients with HIV/AIDS. 

In Iowa, the disease was relatively new, but in Charlotte and the surrounding area, there was a population of nearly 1 million people, and HIV/AIDS was prevalent.

“This was a very scary time; I had very little knowledge of the disease, how it was transmitted or how it was treated,” Gephart related. “All I really knew was that if you got it, you were going to die. I had a quick education program and away I went.”

When she heard the news she’d been selected as one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses, Gephart said she was both overwhelmed and speechless.

“I went to my leader, Chief Nursing Officer Wanda Haack and told her, and she gave me a big hug,” she shared. “Wanda has been my mentor and friend since I transitioned to GMC-DeWitt, and it was Wanda who sent in my application. I work closely with several other nurses here in DeWitt who have achieved this recognition, and can’t believe I am in the same category. This community has many, many great nurses providing the best care in the area.”

Dawn Rude

Rude, who has worked in nursing for 45 years, feels the same way.

“All the people I have worked with, and patients’ and families’ lives that I have been a part of, all have made me love my job — in the good times and the bad,” the 64-year-old shared. “It’s a very satisfying feeling to be recognized by your peers for the positive impact you have made on those you work with and for.”

Rude is responsible for the day-to-day operations in the areas of emergency department and patient care unit at Jackson County Regional Health Center. 

She was just 5 years old when she decided she wanted to become a nurse. While Rude doesn’t recall any one person or experience that influenced her decision, both her grandmothers were very proud to know there would be a nurse in the family.

She has worked in the field since she was just 19 — for three years as a nursing tech, then as an RN for 42 years.

Rude said there are many aspects of her career that she loves; however, it all boils down to being able to care for others.

“I love helping people,” she related. “I love helping staff and the adrenaline that comes with helping patients in crisis. But mostly I just like to help people, whether it is through a difficult time or a joyous one.”

So much has changed throughout her career — going from wards with 20 patients, to private rooms; alterations in medication management; and perhaps the biggest change has been in patient expectations where they sometimes prefer to direct their own care, rather than just doing what the doctor says.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Rude said. “But it’s a different dynamic.”

Like Gephart, Rude felt there were similarities between when HIV/AIDS became prevalent and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fear and uncertainty were two of the biggest parallels.

Rude said when she learned she was one of this year’s 100 Great Iowa Nurses, she felt extremely fulfilled.

For anyone considering pursuing a career in nursing, Rude believes it’s a great profession for anyone who likes helping people.

“There are so many paths and opportunities within nursing, that the choices are endless, and the encounters with patients, families and staff are well worth it,” she noted. “It is a very satisfying feeling to be recognized by your peers for the positive impact you have made to those you work with and for.”

Melissa Wilson

Wilson, too, felt honored and humbled by the recognition.

“My family and friends who all have made this possible,” she shared, “I wouldn’t be here without them.”

The 39-year-old is responsible for several different duties for each one of the positions she holds at Jackson County Regional Health Center.

Emergency preparedness consists of surveillance and monitoring of patients and the community, as well as preparing for disasters — including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Infection control provides education within the hospital such as hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting areas. The employee health portion provides ongoing education concerning employee safety and health, including immunizations and proper use of PPE. 

The staff experience position consists of ensuring all staff have their required competencies and licenses current and that job-specific skills are reviewed annually.

While Wilson has worked at Jackson County Regional Health Center (JCRHC) for almost 10 years, she has spent just four months in her current role.

Wilson said she knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was a little girl.

“My healthcare adventure started with me being a candy striper at JCRHC as a teenager, which pushed me to go on to complete my CNA,” Wilson related. “After completion of that, I worked as an aide for Hospice of Jackson County for many years. It was not until I was pregnant with my third child that I decided I wanted to actually pursue my nursing degree.”

As a CNA, she worked at Finley in Dubuque for a couple of years, then at Hospice of Jackson County. After earning her nursing degree, she began at JCRHC.

While nursing is a profession that comes with more than its fair share of challenges, what keeps Wilson passionate about her work are the individuals to whom she provides comfort.

“The patients; I love taking care of people and seeing the difference you can make in someone’s life,” she shared. 

As for the changes Wilson has endured, one of the biggest — which has had lasting effects — is and was the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have never experienced anything like this pandemic,” she noted. “It has been a big challenge for me, as I am very new in this current emergency preparedness role and things change daily. You have to keep an open mind and go with the flow as to what might be the way today may change tomorrow. 

“This pandemic has affected everyone’s life in one way or another and being in this field, you see not only how it’s affecting you and your family, but the lives of others as well.”

The mother of three boys said while parts of being a nurse can be tough to swallow, including the death of a patient, she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

“It’s an amazing, rewarding career with so many possibilities.”