3 chosen as UAB VIPs for second-quarter 2023

uab vip award squareNominations for third-quarter 2023 honorees are open through Aug. 23; submit a nomination online.Kayla Evans, assistant nurse manager in Perioperative Services; Damian Schwartz, surgery lab supervisor in the General Surgical Gastrointestinal Section; and Brigitte Vola, wound ostomy and continence nurse in Trauma Services, are the second-quarter 2023 honorees for the UAB Shared Values in Action Program. The UAB VIP Awards honor employees whose work exemplifies and embodies one or more of the university’s shared values — integrity, stewardship, collaboration, accountability, respect, excellence and achievement, and diversity and inclusiveness.

Honorees are nominated by their colleagues and selected by a committee of individuals from across the campus and UAB Hospital. Nominations for third-quarter 2023 honorees are open through Aug. 23; submit a nomination online. One of 12 VIP honorees throughout the year will be selected for the new President’s Award for Excellence in Shared Values.

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Since joining the Perioperative Services team at UAB Highlands in 2021, Evans has prioritized staff engagement and making sure her colleagues are recognized for their accomplishments and celebrated, says Nurse Manager Katie Brooks. 

“What I value most about Kayla is that she’s a leader who understands us as humans,” Brooks said. “She knows that all human beings want appreciation for what they do and who they are. Our Highlands Periop Team is often known as the team that celebrates everything and often, but in reality, and with her leadership, together we are purposefully building stronger teams.”

Evans is no stranger to awards and recognition, though she is usually nominating others rather than being nominated. According to Lynne Class, interim vice president of Operations, Evans is constantly nominating staff and leadership for awards, as well as creating a calendar that includes monthly events that build teamwork and community between the perioperative areas.

“You can walk the hallways outside of the OR, Central Sterile and Highlands Perioperative Administration and see bulletin boards full of pictures of events that Kayla has planned and organized,” Class said.

Evans recently led an initiative to manage patient body temperature in an effort to improve outcomes and decrease the incidence of intraoperative hypothermia. The initiative involved several departments across UAB and outside vendors. Evans coordinated and collaborated with all of them to achieve the best results for patients.

“Taking the time to interact with the different departments and valuing what they add to the team makes our entire team more inclusive,” Brooks said. “That allows the entire perioperative team to carry out UAB’s mission and vision for what we do.”

rep vip 2ndq 2023 damian schwartz 500px MCDamian SchwartzDamian Schwartz

In 14 letters of recommendation for Schwartz, one theme stands out: He is a helper. Schwartz began his career with the Department of Surgery in 1996 as a messenger and now uses his 27 years of experience within the department to help others.

“I think Damian has to be one of the most helpful people I have ever met,” said Regina Irwin, Researcher V. “Damian treats everyone with respect. We all know he’s busy and yet he will always take the time for a question. He has helped me out numerous times dealing with payment requests and Oracle object codes, along with any ordering or delivery issues.”

“If a student or researcher is looking for a job, Damian helps not only to prepare an application but walks this person from lab to lab with his personal references,” said Associate Professor Renata Jaskula-Sztul, Ph.D. This is particularly important for students who are not native speakers or not familiar with the UAB campus, Jaskula-Sztul notes.

“He is frequently consulted by students, staff within the department, and sometimes

other departments, for matters that aren’t always directly related to his job,” said Professor James George, Ph.D. “They may be personal or interpersonal issues and he is always there to lend an ear or offer counsel.”

Many of Schwartz’s colleagues have a personal anecdote illustrating how he made them feel welcome, helping them find everything from a new favorite lunch spot to a place to live.

“From my perspective as a foreigner in the States, he has helped me adjust to the many subtleties inside and outside our work environment, providing a much-needed component to my support system here in Birmingham,” said Postdoctoral Scholar Daniele Zanella, Ph.D.

Schwartz does not limit his assistance to the workplace. Assistant Professor Heinrich Matthies, Ph.D., recalls Schwartz asking if he had any clothes he could part with.

“He had seen some migrants from Jamaica that wanted work and were eager to create a better future for themselves,” Matthies said. “However, they needed help to get on their feet…. He collected some items and shared them with these people that he had met on his walk to work.”

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Vola’s role primarily covering the cardiac-related intensive-care and floor units requires knowledge beyond classic wound care. Many of her patients have ventricular assist devices or are being treated with ECMO — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — which is used for life-threatening heart or lung problems.

“Her knowledge in these areas makes her an expert amongst experts and is unlikely replicated anywhere else in the country,” said Marty Vander Noot, M.D., chief of Inpatient Wound Care Services. “She is known to have excellent clinical judgment and is asked by nursing staff and attendings alike to weigh in on the best ways to treat some of the sickest patients in our hospital.”

Colleagues say Vola is always ready to share her experience and expertise with others.

“She often trains bedside nurses on her units to become unit experts in wound care,” said fellow Wound Ostomy & Continence nurse Kristina Collins, as well as serving as a preceptor to train and orient newly certified wound ostomy and continence nurses in the state of Alabama.

Vola has had a profound effect on patient care at UAB and beyond. She serves as the president of the Central Alabama Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses group, which brings these specialists together to discuss new evidence-based practices and implementation. She is often asked to help with developing clinical standards at UAB and has served on multiple committees that have resulted in care-changing new protocols. 

“One example of this is her work with the left ventricular assist device team that monitors and mitigates LVAD driveline infections,” Vander Noot said. “Bringing her unique knowledge about wound care, Brigitte has helped the LVAD support team to create different protocols for dressing these driveline exit sites and helping keep this unique group of patients as healthy as possible.”

According to Wound Ostomy & Continence team lead Karen Edwards, when Vola noticed an increased risk of pressure ulcers in cardiac patients, she took steps to develop prevention interventions. “With the help of the team she assembled, pressure ulcers have drastically decreased in this population,” Edwards said.

Vola also has improved wound and ostomy care for patients throughout the state. In April 2023, Medicare expanded the number of products they cover for ostomy patients in response to Vola’s petition and detailed analysis.

“She instinctively puts her patients first, so naturally that she does not think it is special,” Edwards said. “And that is exceptional.”