Three faculty members and two nursing students from Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston are among the Houston Chronicle’s honorees in the 2022 “Salute to Nurses.” While they each followed unique paths to nursing and different areas of concentration, they all share the same goal: to advance the profession and provide exceptional care to patients.
Instructor Kelli Galle, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, was selected as one of the top 15 nurses across the Houston area, and assistant professors Deniz Dishman, PhD, DNAP, CRNA, and Daisy Mullassery, DNP, RN, WHNP-BC, are among the top 150. PhD candidate Jessica Gomez, MSN, APRN, NNP-BC, IBCLC, and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) student Cassandra Twining are among only three students awarded $1,000 scholarships through the “Salute to Nurses” program.
Shaping the Next Generation of Nurses
Kelli Galle, a full-time clinical instructor in the Pacesetter BSN program, enjoys sharing her clinical and personal nursing experiences with her students. She loves going to the hospitals and seeing graduates in clinical and leadership roles.
“It’s rewarding to be part of my students’ journey and witness their exposure to nursing for the first time,” said Galle. “I hope that all of them will go on to provide high-quality care and positively impact the lives of thousands of patients along the way.”
Before she joined Cizik School of Nursing, Galle worked as a nurse practitioner in hospice for seven years, helping patients live out the last parts of their lives comfortably and with dignity.
“It was an honor to care for people during the most vulnerable moments of their lives,” said Galle. “As they prepared to make their transitions, I had the incredible opportunity to be at the bedside while extending support to their family members when they needed it the most.”
Galle’s passion for nursing runs in the family. She followed her older sister into the field, receiving her BSN from the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans and her master’s degree at Cizik School of Nursing on the family nurse practitioner track.
No amount of guidance from her older sister or education could have prepared Galle for a worldwide pandemic, which put nurses in the global spotlight and directly on the frontlines.
“COVID-19 showed the world how dedicated nurses are and our ability to handle increased tasks and responsibilities at a time of so much uncertainty,” she said.
Her most significant advice for nursing students or new graduates is to allow yourself to be human.
“It’s acceptable to cry and show emotion in front of patients and their families. Although we have a huge workload and many tasks to complete, it’s important to show empathy and display grace and kindness. Sometimes, the smallest gestures make the biggest impact on people,” she said.
Reaching New Heights
Deniz Dishman and Daisy Mullassery round out this year’s list of Cizik School of Nursing faculty honorees.
An assistant professor in the nurse anesthesia program, Dishman has practiced for more than 20 years and maintains a clinical practice in the Texas Medical Center. Her research centers on human factors in patient safety and the use of secondary data sources to address health care crises.
Mullassery has more than 30 years of experience in nursing and spent two years teaching at Bombay Hospital Research Center, where she had the opportunity to care for patients ranging from members of Qatar’s royal family to Bedouins living in the desert. Her research interest includes vaccine-preventable cancers, sexual- and gender-minority health care issues, and curriculum development for health care education.
Creating Strong Bonds
Scholarship recipient Jessica Gomez has always found joy in helping others.
“When I found nursing, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be,” she said. “Every job I’ve held has allowed me to walk with families through their darkest times and celebrate when they have overcome insurmountable obstacles. It’s truly an honor to do what I do.”
Gomez is a Ph.D. candidate at the Cizik School of Nursing and is one year away from receiving her degree.
When she was a nursing student, she completed a summer internship in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), fell in love with the patient population, and immediately knew that it was the perfect fit for her.
“When an infant is premature or ill, the excitement of a new baby is often overshadowed by worry. As a neonatal nurse and now a neonatal nurse practitioner, I have the privilege of helping families navigate the environment of the NICU,” she said. “I walk with them through the ups and downs, rejoice with them when they celebrate milestones, and provide comfort when things don’t go according to plan.”
Creating a strong connection between her patients and their mothers drives Gomez daily, including in her dissertation project in which she is studying ways to improve the breastfeeding experience in NICUs. Specifically, she is looking at the influence of the mother’s pumping location, and her proximity to the infant on the perception of bonding, and the overall breastfeeding experience.
“As a nurse and nurse practitioner in the NICU, it has always been my goal to connect the families with their infant by supporting bonding experiences and breaking barriers of anxiety and fear,” said Gomez.
With her sights set on graduating in May 2023, Gomez looks forward to leading more research efforts and hopes to inspire others to do the same. She says the scholarship will ease the financial burden of school for the next semester.
“Supporting connection and growth apply to all aspects of nursing care and perfectly describe why I love being a nurse,” she said. “We all have abilities and a purpose. When we work to find and fulfill our purpose, our community can thrive.”
Following Her Heart
A soon-to-be graduate of the Cizik School of Nursing, Cassandra Twining knew at age 3 that she was destined for a medical career.
“While most children were terrified about going to the hospital, I couldn’t wait to go,” said Twinning. “When my dad started having health care issues, I would accompany him to his medical appointments and soak in everything.”
Despite being from a family of lawyers who for many years expected her to follow in their footsteps, Twining followed her heart, which would eventually lead her to nursing school. She knew that her personality was better suited to being a nurse than a doctor because of the one-on-one patient connections and interactions.
In the spring of 2021, Twining enrolled in Cizik School of Nursing’s Pacesetter BSN program. From the moment she stepped foot in her first class, she knew she had made the right decision.
“On the first day of clinical rotations, everything was confirmed for me. I knew this was my calling, and nursing school was exactly where I belonged,” she said.
After learning about various nursing specialties, Twining developed a passion for emergency medicine.
“In the emergency room (ER), I was able to see patients of all ages and backgrounds who suffered from all types of conditions,” she said. “I have enjoyed aspects of all my nursing classes, so combining all of them into one field was exciting and special for me. In addition, I love the fast-paced nature and teamwork involved in the ER setting.”
Twining will use the $1,000 to help with the fees associated with her nursing licensure after she graduates in May. Eager to begin her new position in the ER of one of Houston’s well-known hospitals, Twining looks forward to sharing her knowledge by teaching new nursing students one day.
“I truly feel it is a privilege to care for those in some of the hardest times of their lives. From personal and family experience, I know that hospitals can be scary and can sometimes come with devastating news attached,” she said. “To make a difference in people’s lives or be the one person who made them more comfortable or safe is one of the greatest joys in my life.”