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Phoenix Forward magazine

Alumna is Johnson & Johnson’s “Amazing Nurse”

Ann Coyle

Last year was a “blur of excitement” for nurse Ann Coyle. In May 2012, she earned a bachelor’s in psychology from University of Phoenix. In the fall, she won the Johnson & Johnson Amazing Nurses Contest, a national competition for caregivers. Next, she appeared on “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” an annual televised event celebrating individuals who do extraordinary work helping a community or cause.

The accolades were a surprise. “I don’t do this for fame and fortune and recognition,” Coyle says. “I do it because it’s what I love to do.”

This year marks her 30th in nursing. A registered nurse, certified (RNC) in neonatal intensive care — which means she passed a national exam and logged thousands of hours on the job — Coyle works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at New Jersey’s Virtua Voorhees hospital, where she devotes herself to her infant patients, their families and her colleagues. These families and co-workers voted for her in the Johnson & Johnson contest, vaulting her past 700 other nominees.

In addition to her clinical work with critically ill premature infants, Coyle counsels the premies’ families. “I get them through the initial ‘Oh my gosh’ shock of walking into the NICU,” she explains, “and make them comfortable with their babies.”

Most of the preterm babies who arrive in the NICU survive. But Coyle’s exceptional caregiving skills come to the forefront when a child dies. “I’m all about being proactive when someone’s grieving,” she says. “I’ve always been the person who will talk through it or will just hold someone’s hand.”

I don’t do this for fame and fortune and recognition. I do it because it’s what I love to do.

She encourages families to join a support group she leads at the hospital, which inspired her to lobby for a memorial garden when Virtua Voorhees began construction of a new hospital campus in 2007. Coyle organized bake sales, raffles and other activities, and she and her support group raised more than $30,000.

In September 2012, Coyle dedicated the hospital’s new Angel Garden, which included a waterfall wall she designed, studded with plaques inscribed with the names of children who did not survive. She believes the memorial helps parents deal with their loss.

Coyle supports her NICU co-workers, too. She’s turned staff meetings into award ceremonies, giving colleagues prizes for having the nicest smile or always being on time. “In a highly stressful field,” she notes, “you need some laughter.”

Her co-workers, meanwhile, encouraged her to get her bachelor’s degree. Coyle chose to study psychology and quickly applied what she learned in class to her counseling. She hopes to increase counseling skills among hospital staff, which she believes is the key to compassionate caregiving.

But the best morale boosters, she says, are reunions with families whose preterm babies are grown and healthy. Coyle recently saw a former patient. “He just graduated high school, he’s in football and he’s gorgeous, with no residual effects from his prematurity,” she says. “It makes me want to go back to work that very day.”

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