Nurses of Influence 2023

2023 Nurses of Influence Awardees

We are honored to introduce the 2023 Nurses of Influence Awardees. These five outstanding individuals possess innovative spirits, an unwavering commitment to their patients, and a dedication to advancing nursing care in the communities we serve and globally.

Award recipients were nominated by their peers and chosen through a selection process involving School of Nursing leadership, faculty, and advisory board members.

Distinguished Advocate, Administrator, Leader Award

This award recognizes an individual who demonstrates excellence in nursing advocacy, patient advocacy, administration and leadership; serves as a champion for the nursing profession; actively seeks to improve nursing management and administration; and goes above and beyond across the nursing-practice continuum.

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Samara Hoag

Samara Hoag, MN, RN, NCSN, Manager of Student Health Services Seattle Public Schools

“I believe that public education is a foundation of democracy,” says Hoag. “Reducing the equity gaps that exist in education – like healthcare – make it so everyone has real access to learning and can thrive.”

Throughout her career as a public school nurse and manager, Samara Hoag has been a dedicated advocate for the health and well-being of school children.

Hoag’s career in healthcare began during the AIDS epidemic, and it fittingly concluded during the COVID-19 pandemic, bookending her 40-year career with two significant societal threats. Throughout it all, Hoag demonstrated expertise, compassion, and a deep commitment to the community she served.

“Being a school nurse allowed me to build connections with students that lasted 15 years. From kindergarten on I had the honor of building relationships with families,” says Hoag. “School nursing is on-the-ground public health. Along with care services, we teach fundamental skills like brushing your teeth and good nutrition.”

A key goal of Hoag’s was to establish an effective immunization process for school-age children to protect them against common vaccine-preventable diseases. This service, often overlooked, plays a critical role in public health. Then came the unexpected arrival of COVID-19, a challenge that Hoag met head-on with expertise and ingenuity.

Hoag played a crucial role in orchestrating hundreds of vaccine clinics in collaboration with school staff and the WA Department of Health. These clinics were able to vaccinate tens of thousands of adults and children. To ensure everyone had equitable access to vaccines, Hoag and her colleagues worked long hours to problem-solve the best ways to reach marginalized communities.

The impact of this COVID vaccination outreach work was staggering. Nationally, vaccine doses for the 11-18-year-old population hovered around 60%, while Seattle Public Schools achieved close to 90%. In fact, the vaccination compliance rate for government requirements in the entire district reached an impressive 98.2%.

Hoag sees good health as holistic and often introduced inventive ideas into schools to improve students’ overall well-being. For example, she brought ping pong tables into the school for use during lunchtime. This simple yet effective initiative encouraged students to be active and social, providing them with an alternative activity to channel their energy positively.

“The beauty of school health is that once the important basics are taken care of, it’s easier to run with creative ideas,” says Hoag. “You have more room to think outside the box, which is such a joy.”

Not only did Hoag work with school children, but she also mentored nursing students, guiding, and shaping the careers of hundreds. Her professional dedication also extended to a wide range of leadership roles including President of the Seattle School Nurse Association, Chair of the UW School of Social Work forefront Suicide Prevention Team, and President of the School Nurse Organization of Washington.

As Hoag retires, she leaves a legacy of leadership and a foundation of good health for thousands of people.

Distinguished Researcher Award

This award recognizes an individual whose research, professional achievements, and cumulative contributions have brought personal distinction, enhanced the profession, improved the welfare of the general public, and brought honor and prestige to their field.

Margaret Heitkemper, RN, PhD, FAAN, Professor of Nursing, UW School of Nursing and Adjunct Professor, Division of Gastroenterology

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Margaret Heitkemper

“Nursing Ph.D. programs were few and far between around when I was younger,” says Heitkemper.

Dr. Heitkemper, a distinguished nurse scientist-educator, has been conducting research at the University of Washington School of Nursing since the 80s. For the past four decades, she has been working to answer one underlying question – Why does stress affect women differently than it affects men?

Her groundbreaking work to answer this question has significantly contributed to improving the lives of individuals with functional bowel disturbances, and to advancing the field of nursing.

“My mother was a WWII nurse.  “She had a series of stressful jobs as a night supervisor and head nurse at a regional hospital in Longview, Washington. She developed bleeding ulcers and was told it was related to stress,” says Heitkemper. “That is what spurred my enthusiasm to begin to understand if stress was involved in her ulcers.”

Throughout her career, Heitkemper has valued mentoring students and junior scientists. Her own journey began with her master’s research at UW, where she focused on enteral feeding, leading to the development of evidence-based tube feeding protocols, a pivotal contribution to the field.

Her doctoral work was equally groundbreaking, involving the examination of stress hormones and gastrointestinal (GI) biochemical characteristics. As a UW faculty member and colleague of Dr. Nancy Woods, she applied these techniques to study sex and gender-related differences in GI function, particularly within irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), marked by severe abdominal pain. Heitkemper’s discovery that IBS is linked to early-life adverse events illuminated the connection between mental and emotional factors and physical symptoms. She and her team were among the first to identify menstrual cycle differences in gastrointestinal symptoms and to consider the link between poor sleep and symptoms.

She has pioneered novel research approaches, conducted intervention trials, and authored over 220 papers.

Heitkemper’s remarkable contributions have garnered recognition from nursing and gastroenterology organizations. She joined the Rome Committee, responsible for establishing evidence-based criteria for the diagnosis and management of functional bowel disorders. Heitkemper co-chaired a Rome IV publication on “Gender, Women’s Health, Age, and the Patient’s Perspective” and is set to co-chair the 2026 update.

As a founding leader of UW’s Center for Women’s Health and Gender Research, she mentored a generation of nurse scientists focused on gender research.

Amidst all of this exceptional work, Heitkemper sees developing the self-management program for patients with IBS as the most significant achievement of her career. Under her guidance, the team developed Comprehensive Self-Management (CSM) for IBS, combining cognitive behavioral therapy with relaxation training and dietary guidance. Her trials showed that the program reduces abdominal pain severity and enhances quality of life for up to 12 months.

From this work, she and her team developed the patient manual “Master your IBS”. This manual is currently being translated and culturally adapted for Taiwan by a former doctoral student.

“I am honored to be a UW alumnus,” says Heitkemper. “And I am not ready to slow down just yet. The questions are so important, and you’ve got to keep trying to answer them.”

Dr. Heitkemper’s contributions to nursing science and healthcare make her a luminary in the field, and her discoveries continue to benefit people worldwide.

Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes a UW School of Nursing alum whose career in nursing exemplifies excellence in clinical practice, leadership in professional organizations, outstanding accomplishments, and contributions to the community.

Jesus Reyna, Regional Emergency Coordinator, United States Public Health Service

“A nursing degree allows you to pursue so many avenues of interest. I have worked on hospital floors, community health, managed grants, worked on health disparity projects and large-scale emergency response,” says Reyna. “I don’t know that I would have had that range in any other profession.”

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Jesus Reyna

Jesus Reyna, Commander (CDR) in the United States Public Health Service’s (USPHS) Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), is a distinguished figure in the field of public health and emergency response. With a focus on the Federal Region 10, encompassing Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 272 Tribal Nations, CDR Reyna has played a pivotal role in shaping and executing comprehensive emergency response strategies.

Over the past three years, Reyna has been at the forefront of COVID-19 planning and response operations. His expertise in public health and federal systems has made him a recognized leader at both regional and national levels, facilitating complex emergency responses.

Reyna’s impressive track record includes standing up and staffing an Ebola treatment facility in Liberia, serving as a Public Health Advisor and USPHS liaison during the Flint water crisis, and providing critical healthcare services in the aftermath of hurricanes. Additionally, as a bilingual, bicultural nurse, he has been deployed to provide humanitarian support to unaccompanied children at the U.S. border.

Beyond his role with the USPHS, Reyna also serves as a nurse practitioner at SeaMar Community Health Centers in Burien.

Helping people in their greatest time of need is the foundation of Reyna’s career. That desire to help others came from his early family life. He and his family were migrant farm workers harvesting crops in eastern and western Washington. He became interested in healthcare as a child when his mother was hospitalized. It was difficult for her to access care,” says Reyna. “There were so many barriers – insurance, language, transportation, and cultural differences.”

“My mother became sick early on and as migrant farm workers it was difficult to access care,’ says Reyna. “There were so many barriers – insurance, language, transportation, and cultural differences.”

With a personal understanding of the need to support marginalized communities, Reyna works to build a focus on farm workers, and on Latino health overall in each of his jobs. His ability to represent his community as a nurse and to have an impact on his community is key to Reyna.

Being an active UW School of Nursing Alumni is also essential for Reyna.

“The UW School of Nursing is a leader in addressing health equity. They truly have an impact on the state’s health,” says Reyna. “I received a scholarship from UW and that scholarship was my steppingstone to a better life. I not only feel the need to give back, it is a pleasure to give back.”

Reyna’s dedication extends to fostering the next generation of healthcare professionals, particularly among underrepresented and underserved youth. Through public health presentations and community-based programs, he encourages young people to become healthcare providers.

Reyna and his wife (Rosie) are both UW School of Nursing graduates. He credits his wife with many of his accomplishments as she has supported him through his many deployments and finishing his Master’s. Reyna says. “I wouldn’t have made it without her.”

“I don’t think I would be anywhere at all if it wasn’t for my wife,” Reyna says. “She has handled every deployment with such grace. When I was in school she was so supportive. She helped make me who I am.”

Distinguished Practitioner Award

This award honors a nurse who demonstrates excellence in nursing care, serves as an advocate for patients, families, and/or communities, makes a recognizable difference through their practice, and embodies the essence of the nursing profession.

Carla Jolley, MN, ARNP, ANP-BC, AOCN, ACHPN, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner at Whidbey Island Hospital

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Carla Jolley

This work, serving palliative care patients, you can’t do it without finding joy and meaning in your own life,” says Jolley. “Without connecting deeper to the community you serve.”

A leader in rural palliative care, Carla Jolley has dedicated nearly 35 years of service to Whidbey Health Medical Center. Her journey there includes building a new palliative care program to care for patients both in their homes, in the oncology clinic, and at the hospital. Her work has touched countless lives.

Palliative care is often an essential part of a person’s healthcare journey, and this service can be overlooked or undervalued. As a former oncology nurse, Jolley knows firsthand the importance of supporting patients with debilitating illnesses or those at the end of their lives.

Jolley saw this need in her own community. After participating as an Inaugural Fellow, at Duke University’s Johnson & Johnson Fellowship for Leadership program, she submitted the proposal to the hospital board of commissioners to establish the first palliative care program at Whidbey Medical Center. Since its inception in 2014, this program has been warmly embraced by the Whidbey Island community and has recently expanded to include more team members to meet the growing needs.

“Living with serious illness is already socially isolating,” says Jolley. “Moving people out of their support circles – whether that be spiritual, personal, or professional can be devastating. That’s why community-based palliative care is so important.”

Under Jolley’s guidance, the program provides medical support, care coordination, patient advocacy, and anticipatory guidance – providing patients and their families with information about what comes next so they can make clear decisions. Jolley believes in bringing the patient’s entire support system into the palliative care conversation. That support system also includes the patient’s providers.

“It’s my job to advocate for my patients, to ensure that their treatment plans match their beliefs, expectations, and goals,” says Jolley. “To explain a patient’s quality of life, support network, and mindset to providers so that they understand the whole picture.”

Jolley’s impact reaches well beyond the bedside. She believes in the strength of mentor-mentee relationships, mentoring dozens of nurses and teaching palliative care classes. Jolley’s influence can also be felt at the national level as a speaker and lecturer at professional healthcare events and through her work cited in journals and nursing textbooks.

Jolley’s tireless commitment to her work, her profession, and her community exemplifies the highest standards of nursing excellence.

Dr. C. June Strickland Distinguished Diversity & Transcultural Nursing Advocate Award

This award honors a nurse who advocates for the needs of underrepresented populations and communities, encourages dialogue and reflection regarding societal power imbalances, and demonstrates leadership in promoting diversity in nursing. This award is named in honor of C. June Strickland, Ph.D., RN, Cherokee, from the family of Hawkins, and her career-long work in prevention science and translation/transcultural research with American Indians in the Pacific Northwest. In her words: “We are part of the world, and the world is part of us…global is local.”

Muriel G. Softli, MPA, MEd, BSN, RN, Community Health Nurse, Mary Mahoney Professional
Nurses Organization, ANA, WSNA, KCNA.

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Muriel Softli

“In the future, I expect we will all be transcultural nurses,” says Softli. “Our society is becoming more and more multicultural and to succeed as nurses, we will have to take a broader view to understand people’s values and beliefs.”

With a career spanning five decades, Muriel G. Softli’s work has been much like the research and service priorities of Dr. June Strickland. Softli’s focus on eliminating healthcare disparities and empowering culturally diverse populations throughout the world has given her a globe-trotting life.

While her home base has always been Seattle, Softli’s impact reaches far beyond the United States, as she has served multicultural military families as a Flight Nurse in the US Air Force Reserves in Europe, Asia, and the US. Her work has also taken her to Africa, where she worked as a nursing educator, instructor, and preceptor to local nurses and assistants from 1963 to 2018.

Softli’s dedication to transcultural nursing has made her a trailblazer in the field of public health, contributing to advancing knowledge and practice in diverse communities here and abroad. The first five years of her exciting life-changing, public health nursing career began in New York City.

“I am first generation born – my parents were both immigrants. I felt as though I could relate, respect, and honor other communities’ practices, values, and beliefs, as I met their needs,” says Softli. “That’s what goes into being an effective caring nurse. And that’s why I have spent my life focusing on these communities.”

Softli practices community-centered health care and has long partnered with community agencies to address their public health needs. Agencies ranging from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Seattle Alumnae Chapter (an international public service sorority), AARTH Ministry, Seattle Center for Multicultural Services, The Rafiki Foundation, (Zambia and Malawi), Operation Crossroads Africa, (Kenya and Nigeria), Special AIDS and HIV project AME Church (Lesotho, Africa) and PAMOZA International (Malawi, Africa).

During her 42-year tenure as a Seattle public school nurse, Softli worked in the Central District and South Seattle – as the only black nurse for over 15 years. These neighborhoods have a high concentration of immigrant students, minorities, and poor families, providing for a diverse and rewarding set of challenges.

“It was my job to see that my kids had the best care possible, often under difficult circumstances,’ she says. “Ensuring they had clothing, meals, and access to healthcare beyond the school.”

In the last six years of her school nursing career, Softli was employed by First Place Schools for the Homeless, where she collaborated with graduate students pursuing advanced degrees. Her collaboration with the University of Washington, School of Nursing earned her the 2017 Community Health Nursing Preceptor of the Year Award.

As a fifty-year member of the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurse Organization, Softli’s work extends even further into the community, offering healthcare outreach to multicultural communities. Those services included immunizations, health screenings, and delivering public health education while working with diverse homeless populations.

Softli’s lifelong commitment to healthcare and community service continues to be an inspiration to all.