100 Great Iowa Nurses nominations make our nurses shine during Nurses Week

Eighteen of UI Health Care’s nursing specialists appear on the 2018 list of 100 Great Iowa Nurses, selected from across the state. All honorees were recognized during a special celebration event on Sunday, May 6, in Des Moines.

May 6 to 12 is National Nurses Week, when we celebrate the amazing work our nurses do for our patients, families, and colleagues every day.

See the full list of this year’s 100 Great Iowa Nurses, and learn more about the program at greatnurses.org.

This year’s UI Health Care awardees are:

Janet Geyer, MSN, CPNP

Janet Geyer, nursing practice leader for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, is a leader in staff development, innovative nursing practice, and quality and safety initiatives. She has led initiatives such as reducing pain associated with circumcision, and several of her research-based comfort practices have been adopted around the world.

Her other work has included improving safe sleep for infants, helping develop and implement a behavioral pain scale, and implementing swaddle bathing for newborns to improve contentment and safety. She is an active volunteer and has led efforts to obtain a grant to purchase pack ‘n plays for newborn families that do not have a safe sleep environment in their home.

“Janet is one of the most humble nurses one will ever work with. She has affected so many patient lives and mentored so many nurses,” her nomination reads.

Danilo Jahn, RN

If you know Danilo Jahn, you know he’s the type of person who likes to buy extra coffee or food to share with patients, family members, or staff that need a little extra kindness in their day.

For one patient who was waiting for a heart transplant and the patient’s wife, he transformed the lounge into a romantic oasis with a white tablecloth, flowers, and lights. The dietary team created an exquisite menu, Danilo dressed up as their waiter, and he even arranged for a quartet to serenade them. Watch the video.

He promotes resiliency and wellness for all those around him, and he has spearheaded the implementation of an annual ergonomic training event called Maxi Blast and continues to educate staff to prevent injuries.

“Danilo exemplifies both the art and the science of nursing, and we are fortunate to have him working alongside us and caring for our cardiology patients,” his nomination reads.

Marta Zahs, BSN, CNOR

It is not uncommon for Marta Zahs to offer her home as a haven for patients’ family members without one. She created a safe home for an extended family member ostracized by others due to mental health and lack of coping skills. She provided comforting words, food, and shelter.

Marta preps specialized robot equipment in the operating room, meticulously ensuring everything is ready and has gone through all the quality and safety checks. She has led the adoption of four generations of robotic technology and has a passion to find new ways to provide minimally invasive surgery.

She’s also involved in STEM education and has provided opportunities to fifth and sixth graders as well as junior volunteers to learn about robot technology.

“She is caring, passionate, embraces technology, [is a] role model, teacher, and has made significant advances in nursing,” her nomination reads.

Sarah Schneider, MSN, PCCN

Sarah is a nursing practice leader responsible for RN onboarding and the Experienced Nurse Fellowship (ENF) in the Nursing Clinical Education Center. She demonstrates compassion for new nurses that may be feeling overwhelmed. She is a person to whom any nurse can go for help or assistance in understanding some aspect of nursing care.

“Not only is she an excellent teacher who lives and breathes interactive learning, but she still practices as a clinical nurse. She has great credibility with other staff nurses, and they know she ‘gets it.’ Without Sarah’s caring and dedication to the ENF, we would have more turnover and vacancy,” her nomination reads.

In the community, Sarah is a member of the Altrusa Club, a volunteer organization dedicated to improving economic well being and quality of life through community services and literacy.

Debbie Sheikholeslami, BSN, MS-BC, OCN

“If you or a family member gets sick, she is the nurse you want,” her nomination reads.

For several years, Debbie Sheikholeslami has organized a garage sale as a fundraiser for a local cancer fund for treatment and research. She actively promotes nurses involvement in the community, being an active member of the local Oncology Nursing Society and has organized a Relay for Life team.

Debbie is known for being innovative in how she engages patients in their care; Debbie’s interventions are effective and ahead of the curve. She has endless compassion for and understanding of patients and their families and has focused much of her work on preventing falls. As a research intern, her project resulted in a reduction in falls rate to zero for the time period of the intervention, which had not occurred for the 18 months prior.

Her work has reached nurses internationally, having a poster presentation accepted at the prestigious Magnet Conference, among other major conferences.

David Spicknall, BSN

A nurse resident said of her orientation, “I had Dave Spicknall as a preceptor—that’s better than winning the lottery!”

A critical care nurse who is set to retire soon, Dave is known for his excellence in nursing practice, compassion for patients, and his ability to stay focused, strong, and effective in stressful situations. He has passed on his values of high quality care to hundreds of orientees and students as well as experienced co-workers, educating nurses in EKG interpretation and treatment.

He goes above and beyond to thank his co-workers for working together as a team. He also is an avid bicyclist, influencing others to exercise. He recently completed the Courage Ride raising money for sarcoma research.

“Although he will retire soon, he has left the CVICU and UI Hospitals and Clinics a better place for having worked there and role modeled and taught so many nurses,” his nomination reads.

Kelly Poch, BSN, CCRN, MBA

“I have worked with hundreds of ICU nurses . . . at seven different hospitals, and Kelly is perhaps the most outstanding nurse I have ever worked with,” her nomination reads.

Kelly Poch is described as the ultimate team player, enthusiastically implementing (and exhorting her co-nurses to help implement) evidence-based best practices.

She consistently works to excel in all the minute aspects of bedside nursing care: whether bathing, comforting, or mobilizing her patients; or reviewing medications and indications for medications; or assessing respiratory status and ability to swallow and neurologic status, Kelly brings an amazing amount of focus, dedication, and consistency to her work.

She continues to remain very involved in teaching and orienting new nurses, and she is seen by her peers as a role model and mentor.

Erin Rindels, MSN, CNRN, SCRN, NVRN-BC

“Erin Rindels is one of the most humble and compassionate colleagues I have had the privileged to know. Trying to capture her tireless work efforts is daunting in itself,” her nomination reads.

Erin is a leader in the Iowa stroke community: She is vice chair of the Iowa Stroke Task Force, president of the Iowa Stroke Coordinators Consortium, and a member of the Eastern Iowa Chapter of AANN.

She has implemented a hospital-wide educational program for nurses about stroke and has developed key data collection methods for our stroke program to assure compliance with Joint Commission requirements. She has played a pivotal role in creation and implementation of our multidisciplinary code stroke program, which is helped countless Iowans with acute stroke.

Stephanie Rozek, BSN

Stephanie Rozek gave a pediatric patient a special experience by helping transform a procedure room into a scene like the movie Frozen, with the movie playing on the screen, and she had the mother hold her daughter during procedure. It was a success without any type of narcotics or IV sedation. She was creative and innovative while keeping the patient comfortable and safe. Stephanie shared her results with other providers, emphasizing that with the right tools, children can get through painful procedures without needing to be restrained or sedated.

Often, these children are so scared they are crying before the procedure. Now they look forward to seeing the team and aren’t nearly as scared.

“Her passion to make these patients trust and feel safe with our staff has been refreshing,” her nomination reads.

Christine McNair, MSN, CRNA

The hospital recently adopted Christine McNair’s vision for a patient centered surgical home to help streamline and guide processes from pre-op to post discharge. Her vision with this project is to improve the patient experience all while improving patient outcomes and decreasing length of stay for surgical patients.

She was chosen to lead and direct the Pre-Surgical Evaluation Clinic at UI Hospitals and Clinics. She has put in tireless hours and soul into making meaningful changes for both the team in the clinic, as well as for the patients they serve. She’s also the Region 4 director and Education Committee co-chair to the Iowa Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

“She is passionate about the care provided to patients not just from her, but from the institution as a whole,” her nomination reads.

Maria Miller, MSN, ONC

Maria Miller, a clubfoot nurse who has been in orthopedics for 30 years, worked side-by-side with Dr. Ignacio Ponseti until his passing, and she was a key cog in the wheel that initiated the clubfoot program.

Maria helped organize and run the first International Clubfoot Symposium that was held in Iowa City in 2007 and the second in 2012. Almost 300 participants from 44 countries attended.

Her patients are seen every 7 to 10 days for a six-week casting series followed by several years of bracing. Maria patiently teaches each family, however they learn best, to manage the care of their child while also wearing the cast/brace, which is critical to the success of the patient’s treatment. One grandparent said of her, “Maria, you are a teacher.”

Patricia Troyer, RN

Pat Troyer, a long-time nurse in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, talks to each patient like they are the only one she is caring for. Pat is a nurse that still makes fluffing pillows, applying lotion, and making sure those dry lips taken care of after surgery a priority. The simplest of actions can help alleviate the bigger problems. “Pat has practiced service excellence before service excellence was the health care norm,” her nomination reads.

Pat treats each patient as though they were her own family member. She knows each patient, and they ask for her by name. She asks about their families and they ask about hers as she has known some of these patients for decades.

Over the years, Pat has and continues to orient nurses and volunteers. This year alone, Pat has shown 24 nurses the recovery process in the ECT area.

Mike Anderson, DNP, CRNA

Mike Anderson is a nurse anesthetist who specializes in anesthesia delivered during brain surgery. His learning-by-doing approach helped introduce hands-on learning for members of the Iowa Association of Nurse Anesthetists (IANA).

Mike introduced four simulations to the IANA’s statewide meetings, covering rare but critical situations, including fire in the operating room. One of Mike’s students nominated him for the 100 Great Iowa Nurses Award, recognizing that simulations are part of a student’s training but aren’t required as continuing education for the state’s certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).

Mike took the recommendations of nursing scholars and made simulations available for IANA members. “In addition, he created opportunities for the Student Registered Nurse Anesthetists (SRNAs) to teach and learn along with the CRNAs,” the student wrote. “This is only one of the many examples of Mike’s contributions to the nursing profession.”

Wendy Hochreiter, MSN, CNL

Wendy Hochreiter, a former barracks sergeant in the U.S. Army and a member of a military HAZMAT team, has built a strong SWOT team here: The Services Without Territory group of nurses can be immediately deployed anywhere in the hospital to lend extra nursing care for patients and families.

She and her team log their assignments carefully to determine where they’re sent, how much time they invest there, and the types of interventions they complete. Her nomination reads, “The SWOT Team and how it was operationalized is innovative, creative, and patient/family centered. It improves patient/family satisfaction, assures efficient, timely and safe care, and is cost-effective.”

Every month for the last four years, Wendy has also partnered with families from her church to provide the evening meal for 250 people at a homeless shelter in Des Moines.

Mary Schlapkohl, MA, ARNP

When Mary Schlapkohl gives lectures on chemotherapy protocols, each lecture is accompanied by stories that highlight the impact of that treatment on a personal level, with a specific patient or family. “It reminds us that not only is there a science to oncology care, but also the art of ensuring the patient and family experience is always at the center of our careers,” her nomination reads.

She develops strong, emotionally supportive relationships that empower families to gain the strength and resiliency most of them never knew they had. She helps families navigate the initial shock of hearing your that their child has cancer.

Mary has been a volunteer on the Board of Directors for the Eastern Iowa Make-A-Wish chapter and volunteered with granting wishes for children. For 15 years, Mary has also volunteered a week of her time every summer serving as the Health Director at Camp Heart Connection, a camp for children who have cancer.

Emily Spellman, MSN, RNC-NIC

Over and over, Emily Spellman applies for funding for families who have premature infants in the NICU, which provide comforting amenities for families, such as scrapbook supplies, hand-held mirrors for parents who are kangarooing, journals, and cameras and printers for families to document their journey through the NICU.

“I have heard over and over from the new nurses how much Emily has made a difference in these new nurses careers and lives in general,” her nomination reads. “The professional growth these nurses have learned from her is simply astounding.”

Emily developed a creative program to bring in guests from other countries to learn how we take care of extremely low birth-weight infants. Last year she hosted two nurses from Japan and a number of nurses from Maryland, Florida, Idaho, and Indiana.

Wendee Beranek, RN

Wendee has spent most of her 30+ year career caring for adult cancer patients at UI Hospitals and Clinics. She has always been a remarkable nurse keeping the patient at the center of her care and being a true patient advocate.

Many of her patients are young adults, and she gives them advice on getting the most out of their life prior to their death. “I have seen Wendee shed tears with her patients,” her nomination reads. “I believe Wendee’s most significant contribution to the nursing profession is her understanding of death and caring for patients who are preparing for their death.”

Besides her time at work, Wendee has attended special events in her patients’ lives including weddings and other celebrations. She has been involved with the Courage Ride in Kalona, Iowa, a fundraiser in memory of one of her patients.

Wendee retired earlier this year, but she still works in a PRN status. “I have seen Wendee’s love for her patients and willingness to continuously go out of her way to make their journey better.”

Jan Hartwig, BSN

As the nursing coordinator for the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care, Jan Hartwig is partly responsible for making certain that all the pieces of a complex puzzle fit together—for each couple’s treatment cycle and for the program as a whole serving that patient.

“I see her dedication carry her through the day to long after the clinic is closed and everyone has left. I can’t begin to list the details she coordinates,” her nomination reads. “The respect she has for her patients is inspiring.”

She has helped guide the program when adding services, such as offering a donor egg service and utilizing gestation carrier for women who didn’t have a uterus—Jan makes sure the pieces always fit. Most recently, the program has been offering services for fertility preservation for women who need cancer treatment, and Jan has been there to talk to patients and coordinate options with oncologists, trying to find a way to give this cancer patient and her family an option that otherwise would not be there.


  1. Congratulations to all. Especially Danilo Jahn that cared for me when I was in the hospital as a cardiac patient. All of the nurses I have had have been excellent.

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