Registered Nurses (RNs)
National Winner - Karen Ulmer, RN
(Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD)
PDF Articles:
Oral Cancer Foundation Oct. 2004
The Avenue News Oct. 2004
The Sun Oct. 2004
The Jeffersonian Oct. 2004
Nominated by: KerriAnn Schenck

Few lessons are learned as well as those taught by experience. In the nursing profession, however, most of us would rather learn what our patients are going through by observation rather than first-hand knowledge. But fate had its own plans for Karen Ulmer, a head and neck nurse at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Baltimore Maryland. The result is a nurse whose compassion and empathy is unmatched. She provides inspiration and motivation to both her patients and coworkers, and her positive attitude has not once faltered.

At 19-years old, Karen was diagnosed with papillary cancer of the thyroid – and, on the same day she was scheduled to start her first semester in Towson University’s nursing program, she had a total thyroidectomy, bilateral modified neck dissection, and tracheostomy. The surgery was the first of many procedures and marked the beginning of a series of treatments to alleviate airway and swallowing difficulties and stave off the cancer. By the time she was 33 years old, Karen had undergone a total of thirteen surgeries or procedures and had to have an emergency tracheostomy. Unfaltering, Karen returned to work four months later, and presently still has the tracheostomy tube.
"To say Karen is an inspiration might very well be an understatement. She is truly the epitome of what all nursing professionals hope to do and be..."

While Karen’s battle with cancer is remarkable, more remarkable is the attitude with which she has tackled each obstacle along the way. With faith and optimism, she continued, and continues, to work towards her life goals despite challenging circumstances. That she chose to pursue otorhinolaryngolgy nursing is no coincidence, and her experiences have made her an invaluable ally for patients and her fellow nurses. Karen wears her scars with confident ease and welcomes questions from patients, providing encouragement and hope to those encountering the same waters Karen has been successfully navigating for more than a decade. In fact, she frequently finds herself attending the same cancer support groups as her patients.

Karen has not only devoted her career to helping others, she has also devoted herself to reaching out on a number of levels, both within the hospital by attending the Patient and Family Head and Neck Support Group and serving as a member of the Head and Neck Team at GBMC, and, together with her husband and two young sons, supporting cancer events in the community. She has become an advocate, serving as her department’s representative in Greater Baltimore Medical Center’s navigator oncology program and speaking at the Society of Otorhinolaryngology and Head-Neck Nurses (SOHN) Annual Congress.
Karen’s peers and patients are amazed at her. She has never complained or used her illness as an excuse not to do something. Through her own personal knowledge she helps the staff stay current and updated on all new ENT equipment and procedures.

To say Karen is an inspiration might very well be an understatement. She is truly the epitome of what all nursing professionals hope to do and be – delivering exceptional service to her patients and silently reminding all who surround her that perseverance and compassion can help to fill the spaces that standard medicine cannot reach.