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Cover Story - Posted September 22, 2017 8:49 a.m.
Photos by Shannon Richardson

Recognizing Panhandle Nurses

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Over the past 25 years, the Dallas/Fort Worth area has been recognizing its nursing community with an annual event called the DFW Great 100 Nurses. While working as the Chief Nursing Officer of Northwest Texas Healthcare System, Dr. Valerie Kiper wondered why Amarillo wasn’t doing a version of the same. With influential nursing schools at Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University – and a thriving medical community – surely the Panhandle could pull together a similar event honoring the members of such a vital profession.

She shared her idea with Dr. Richard Pullen, who at the time served as Dean of Nursing at Amarillo College. Over the course of the next year, the two nursing leaders began assembling a committee and developing a set of criteria. Scaling down the number of honorees to match the population, the committee asked local RNs to nominate their peers for the inaugural Panhandle Great 25 Nurses. The 2016 event launched in partnership with the Texas Nursing Association District 2 and the Panhandle Organization of Nurse Executives.

Now in its second year, the annual Panhandle Great 25 Nurses will honor another set of worthy RNs at a reception on Oct. 12, 2017, at the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Grand Ballroom.

Kiper and Pullen co-chair the recognition event and describe it as having two goals. The first is to honor exemplary registered nurses working in the 26 northernmost counties of the Texas Panhandle. Each of the recipients is nominated by their peers. “The person who is nominating has to document the specifics about why the person is a role model in nursing,” says Pullen, who is now a professor of nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. (TTUHSC) He lists the suggested criteria a nominee must meet: “Examples of leadership skills, examples of being a compassionate caregiver, service to the community, and other contributions to the profession of nursing,” he says.

Those nomination forms are then coded numerically – any mentions of the nominee’s name are removed – allowing the committee to select the award recipients without bias. Sixty-seven individuals were nominated this year, and the 25 selected nurses for 2017 cover multiple clinical specialties. “There’s a broad range this year’s recipients are representing,” Pullen says. “Anywhere from the intensive care unit to hospice to mental health and pediatrics.”

Last year’s recipients hailed from every corner of the Panhandle. “Around half were from rural areas or outside Amarillo,” says Kiper, who now serves as an assistant nursing professor at TTUHSC. She cites 2016 honorees from Dumas, Borger, Dimmitt and Perryton. “We have a lot of population in those areas who need health care, and nurses in those areas need to be there to meet the health care needs of the community.” The two co-chairs say celebrating nurses and the nursing profession highlights the expertise and compassion they provide the community.

But the event has a secondary goal as well. “The notion behind it all, really, is not just to recognize nurses, but a way to generate money towards scholarships to promote either entry-level nursing or for nurses to continue their career path and get higher education,” says Kiper. A recent spate of research has shown a close relationship between better patient outcomes and a nurse’s education level (sidebar). “Critical thinking progresses as you gain knowledge and education.”

Through corporate sponsorships and other donations, the Great 25 committee is able for the first time this year to award six $1,000 scholarships to students in nursing programs through Texas Nursing Association District 2. “We stipulated that the recipients would represent various levels of registered nursing in practice, from associate degree programs to traditional baccalaureate programs to second-degree baccalaureate programs, master’s degree programs, and doctoral programs,” says Pullen.

Encouraging nurses to continue their education has an impact throughout the Panhandle. “If nurses advance their education, they can better meet the health care needs of their community,” Kiper says. That community could include an Amarillo hospital or patients in a rural clinic.

Not only does education impact patient outcomes, but it also plays a critical role in addressing the national and regional nursing shortage. “We need to be planning for the future to really encourage RNs to continue their education at the masters and doctoral level to enter nursing academia,” Pullen says. “That way we can get more nursing students in the pipelines to become registered nurses.” Enrollment levels in nursing programs won’t increase if a new generation of educators isn’t available to work alongside and eventually replace an aging faculty.

Based on the success of the Panhandle Great 25 Nurses recognition and scholarship program, Lubbock recently implemented its own event called the South Plains Great 25 Nurses. As for Amarillo’s program, the organizers hope to double the amount of scholarships next year.

To sponsor Panhandle Great 25 Nurses, visit or contact Valerie Kiper ( or Richard Pullen (

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit and
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