Debra Watkins, RN
2005 National Winner (RN Category)
RN/Nurse Manager of ICU
Veterans Administration Medical Center, Dayton, OH
“ To those who are considering the nursing profession, I would say, ‘Are you torn between being a teacher, counselor, financial manager, social worker, peace maker, human-relations worker, technologist, caregiver, doctor, lawyer, rule enforcer, brother’s keeper, advocate, chaplain, activist, or decision maker? Why not have it all? Be a NURSE!”
Debra Watkins, RN

For 20 years, registered nurse Debra Watkins has cared for the nation’s bravest during their most frightening and vulnerable moments – when they’re hospitalized with life-threatening illness. For her everyday work protecting and healing America’s veterans – as well as for her lifesaving rescue efforts at a car accident scene – she has received the prestigious Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award. Watkins is one of only 14 honorees nationwide in 2005.

The award is granted annually by Cherokee Uniforms – a leading designer and manufacturer of healthcare apparel – to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others’ lives.

“Debra is a compassionate nurse – and an exceptional person,” said Wendell Mobley, who directs the national award for Cherokee. “We are proud to honor someone of her caliber. And military veterans in Ohio are fortunate to have her at their side – when they need medical care.”

As a National Winner in the award’s Registered Nurse category, Watkins receives an all-expense-paid trip to a 2006 U.S. medical conference of her choice, an annual membership to a clinical organization, a wardrobe featuring the best of Cherokee Uniforms and Rockers Footwear worth more than $1,000, a 2005 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award trophy and placement in Cherokee’s 2006 Inspired Comfort Award calendar.

At the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, Watkins is the nurse manager of the intensive care unit (ICU). Her primary responsibility is to guide the ICU nursing staff and oversee the care they provide, but as a “hands-on” professional she tries to spend as much time at her patients’ bedsides – and with their families – as possible

 “I work with the critically ill,” she explained. “And I am happiest when a patient whose life was in the balance recovers and returns to the ICU to thank the nursing staff. They not only let us continue to be a part of their survival against great odds, but recognize us in ways most can’t – they ask for us by name!”

A nurse’s life is a demanding but rewarding one, she advises people who are considering the profession. She has found herself playing the roles of “teacher, counselor, financial manager, social worker, peacemaker, human relations worker, technologist, caregiver, doctor, lawyer, rule enforcer, brother’s keeper, advocate, chaplain and activist.” If you want to “have it all,” Watkins remarked, “be a nurse!”

In addition to demonstrating everyday compassion, she has exhibited extraordinary courage. In 2004, while driving to work on an icy Ohio night, she encountered a head-on collision between two trucks. A pastor and his wife were trapped inside one of the vehicles, and Watkins, with the assistance of two men and a student nurse who also stopped at the scene, evacuated them just as the truck caught fire.

Fearing the worst when she noted the woman’s weak pulse and lack of breath, Watkins nonetheless performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – which ultimately saved her life. The woman was transported via medical helicopter to the hospital, where her husband and the other driver were also treated. After emerging from a six-week coma, she made good progress in recovering from her injuries.

“My life philosophy has been based on the more you problem-solve for others, the easier your problems in life are solved,” reflected Watkins. For her courageous act at the scene of the accident, Watkins received a Nurse Hero Award from the national American Red Cross and Nursing Spectrum. Her local American Red Cross chapter and police department as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs also honored her.

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, more than 3,400 healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of nursing professionals and Cherokee representatives evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination in 2005, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurses House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Cherokee donated $1,300 to Nurses House in 2005.

Nominated by: Tronica Wheeler (RN, Nurse Manager, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Dayton, Ohio)
Ms. Debra Watkins, RN is the Nurse Manager of the Intensive Care Unit at the Dayton VA Medical Center. Ms. Watkins has a compassion for life; it is exemplified in her everyday living and the care she provides for patients, as well as their families. She has a belief, “That you just grab life by the horns and ride until you get tired; you have the choice of hanging on or falling off”. Although, Ms. Watkins’ job is a Nurse Manager she manages to be at the bedside frequently; which fulfills her first love “the care of the veteran”.
Her integrity tells her life story. Ms. Watkins was on her way to work when she arrived at the scene of a head-on collision between two pick up trucks. Ms. Watkins coordinated the life saving event that saved the victims of both automobiles lives. She coordinated the evacuation of the less injured victims. She and a nursing student pulled a lifeless woman and her husband from the burning vehicle. As she worked on the victim the truck in which the couple was traveling in began to explode but Debra continued to work on the victim. Debra performed CPR and provided other emergency care on the woman. In Debra’s mind, as she performed the CPR, she knew the lady was dead but she wanted to be able to tell the family that she did everything possible to save her. Debra’s efforts were not in vain. She successfully revived the woman, who was taken to a local hospital by Care Flight. Thanks to Debra’s courageous effort and philosophy in life the lady recovered from the fatal injuries but unfortunately died from an unrelated illness after she was released from the hospital. She was able to enjoy life, her husband, children and grandchildren a little longer with Debra’s help.
Debra has been recognized by several organizations for this courageous act. She was recognized with the Nurse Hero’s Award in Washington D.C.; this award was given by the American Red Cross. She has received recognition from the local American Red Cross in Dayton, Ohio; the Moraine Police Department, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dayton Daily News - VA nurse among 14 honored nationwide