2 UMSL alumnae win Excellence in Nursing Awards

Christi Abeln, Christine Mathews

Christi Abeln (left) and Christine Mathews won 2018 Excellence in Nursing Awards in orthopedics and intensive care, respectively, from St. Louis Magazine.(Photo collage by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri­–St. Louis’ College of Nursing has long provided the region with well-trained, compassionate nurses, which is why it comes as no surprise that St. Louis Magazine named seven alumnae finalists for its 2018 Excellence in Nursing Awards.

Two of the seven, Christi Abeln and Christine Mathews, won in the categories of orthopedics and intensive care, respectively.

The five other UMSL alumnae finalists were:

Sarah Conway, MSN 2014, St. Anthony’s Medical Center
Mary McCoy, MSN 2000, Mercy Hospital St. Louis
Heather Miller
, BSN 1998, Mercy Hospital St. Louis
Michelle Papchrisanthou, BSN 1995 and MSN 1999, Saint Louis University School of Nursing
Stefanie Struckhoff, BSN 2008, Mercy Hospital St. Louis

The awards committee, comprised of respected leaders from Mayo Clinic–Florida, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and the University of Missouri, received more than 200 nominations, selected 57 finalists and chose winners in 19 categories.

St. Louis Magazine revealed the winners at a gala reception April 19 at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.

UMSL Daily caught up with Abeln and Mathews to discuss their nursing careers and what drives their excellence.

Christi Abeln,
BSN 1992, MSN 1994
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, St. Louis Children’s Hospital

According to her family, Christi Abeln started talking about a career in nursing as soon as she could spell “nurse.”

“As I grew, I just knew I wanted to take care of people,” said Abeln, who has been a nurse more than 15 years now for Washington University Orthopedics at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Her dedication to the nursing profession and her patients earned her an Excellence in Nursing Award in the orthopedics category.

“It’s a wonderful feeling – the cherry on top of already being recognized by your peers and co-workers who took the time to nominate you because they think you do a great job,” Abeln said.

But Abeln gets even more gratification from the positive feedback she receives from patients.

“Being there for my patients, having them know that they come first and that I have compassion and care for them is the most important thing.”

As a pediatric nurse practitioner in orthopedics, Abeln sees children with anything from fractures to scoliosis, flat feet, malalignment and general aches and pains.

“I love kids, and I relate well to them,” she said. “I’m so inspired by their little minds and how much support and love they give unconditionally.”

Abeln’s patients inspire her to give back in kind. Throughout her career, she’s served as a preceptor for nursing students of all kinds – nurse practitioners, masters students, residents and fellows, who come from her alma mater, UMSL, and from Saint Louis University.

“It’s called, ‘You have to give back,’” Abeln said. “I remember being a student and how hard it was to find preceptors willing to let you get in your clinical hours because usually nurses are working women with families and tight schedules.”

Abeln, an alumna of both the BSN and MSN programs at UMSL, was one of the second-ever graduates of the then-new masters in nursing practice program. She went on to work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  for 10 years before starting at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Christine Mathews
, BSN 2012, MSN 2017
Nurse Practitioner, Mercy Hospital St. Louis

Christine Mathews considered herself the Susan Lucci of nursing awards.

Lucci, a famous daytime TV actress, had many nominations for Emmy Awards but no wins for many years.

During Mathews’ years in the Transitional Care Unit at Mercy Hospital, she had been nominated ten times for DAISY awards and twice for March of Dimes Nurse of the Year. But like Lucci, she wouldn’t come away with a win.

So when Mathews won an Excellence in Nursing Award for the intensive care category, she found herself in disbelief and surprise.

“Now I landed it right at the end of my time on the floor” said Mathews, who transitioned to a nurse practitioner role in the Emergency Department Clinical Decision Unit last month. “The other nominees were phenomenal people who I look up to. So to actually be the one who got it, I thought ‘Are you sure?’”

During her time working transitional care, Mathews saw patients with chronic illnesses and complex cases. Many patients had just come out of intensive care for sepsis, motor vehicle accidents or multi-trauma injuries or conditions.

Mathews was recognized for her focus on bettering patient outcomes and improving patient and family experiences.

“We’re not just nursing the patients,” she said. “Really, we’re nursing the families too.”

She also cares deeply about evidence-based practice and research, an approach she’s carried with her from her days in the Accelerated BSN program and the MSN program at UMSL.

“They really lit a fire in me to see problems I want to change,” Mathews said, “and put to use my skills and knowledge to actually make that change happen.”

Mathews has served on Mercy’s Critical Care Nursing Shared Governance, as well as its Practice, Quality and Research Council, helping to forward nursing practice.

She also passes on her nursing knowledge as a clinical instructor for St. Charles Community College.

Now a clinical decision nurse practitioner, she sees a variety of patients coming in for everything from acute headaches to chest pain episodes, stress tests and lab work.

“It’s like playing junior detective,” said Mathews, who gets to diagnose now. “They come in for one thing, but while you’re spending time with them that the ER doctor couldn’t, you’re uncovering five other things. I make sure I get them to where they need to go next.”


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