The New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence honored 22 nurses and nurse advocates at the annual New Mexico Nursing Excellence Awards last month. At the first-ever virtual award ceremony, nurses were honored for excellence in all levels of nursing practice and leadership.

Kristen Winders of Socorro, was the recipient of the Rural Practice Nursing Award.

“I’m so very blessed to have been nominated for it and received it,” Winders said. “I think it’s just a reminder to me now that I need to keep up my work and serve my community.”

The Rural Practice Award recognizes a nurse who practices in a small community or rural health systems where access to care and resources provide unique challenges. This applies to counties other than Bernalillo, Dona Ana, Sandoval, San Juan or Santa Fe counties.

“I push to be the best that I can be,” Winders said. “I don’t think by any means it’s something that says that I’ve reached my career goal. It’s definitely a reminder of what I need to just continue to do every day.”

Winders is more than deserving of the award, says Veronica Pound, Hospital Chief Executive of Socorro General Hospital, and a registered nurse herself.

“The nominating committee looks for a nurse who is very committed, who’s really good at following through, and who is a top performer,” Pound said. “The Nursing Excellence Awards were created by nurses for nurses, so being nominated for an award is in itself an incredible honor. She was singled out as one the one of 250 nurses nominated across the state this year.”

Nominating Winders was Amy Wilson, PHS Presbyterian Medical Group Director of Nursing, and Lynn Major, Socorro General Medical Group Practice Administrator.

“Both of them recognized her and wrote a summary describing her work,” Pound said. “When she got nominated, Kristen was very instrumental in leading the clinic in our COVID-19 response. On top of that, she has taken the initiative and has received national emergency preparedness training from an institution in Alabama.”

2020 was deemed by the World Health Organization to be recognized globally as the year of the nurse and the midwife. According to iane Evans-Prior, DNP, RN, and President of the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence, the campaign was intended to celebrate the work of nurses, to highlight the challenging conditions they often face, and to advocate for increased investments in the nursing and midwifery workforce.

“We are perfectionists. We are passionate. We are just. We are resourceful,” Evans-Prior said of nurses. “But we get in the habit of minimizing what we have achieved for the shadows of what we did not. That is why it is so important that we recognize and celebrate our profession as we continue to address the stark realities of COVID-19 and serve our communities.”

Winders has been with Socorro Medical Group serving in various capacities for eight years.

“When I was nominated for the award I was the clinical supervisor at Socorro General Medical Group,” Winders said. “At the beginning of October I transferred over to the emergency room at Socorro General Hospital. Right now, I’m kind of right between the Emergency Room and the surgical floor.

In addition to her normal duties, the Boo to the Flu event last month was handled by Winders, her second year heading it.

“It’s a huge thing for this community. More so this year. It’s something we really pushed it with COVID going on,” she said. “We just want to make sure that people are doing everything they can to take care of themselves, especially in a small community like Socorro. I was born and raised here and I want to be sure that everybody is protected, so that my family is also protected.”

In the nine months since the pandemic arrived, the hospital has adapted to the situation and taken on new strategies.

“We are doing what we have to. Both the medical group and the hospital have come together,” Winders said. “The clinic has cross-trained all the nurses over to help, in case we come into a big surge.

“Everyone has their own families to take care of, and everybody’s concerned about bringing it home to their husband or wife or kids or parents or grandparents.”

Winders says response to the coronavirus has proven what the staff can accomplish.

“Everybody works together well, as a team,” she said. “It’s really amazing to see.”

Winning awards is nothing new to Socorro General Hospital. Last year the hospital was named one of the top five rural hospitals in the state for its focus on improving patient safety through the Hospital Improvement Innovation Network, a program funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“The community should be proud of everything we have in place to take care of them,” Pound said.