National Nurses Week: 6 UTHealth Houston nurses honored at 2022 ‘Salute to Nurses’ luncheon

By Caitie Barkley
May 10, 2022


National Nurses Week: 6 UTHealth Houston nurses honored at 2022 ‘Salute to Nurses’ luncheon

From left to right: Jessica Gomez, NNP-BC and PhD candidate; Cassandra Twinning, BSN student; Kelli Galle, MSN, APRN, FNP-C; and Deniz Dishman, PhD, DNAP, CRNA. (Photo by Sherri Green/UTHealth Houston)

Six practicing and aspiring nurses with UTHealth Houston were honored Wednesday, May 4, at the 2022 “Salute to Nurses” luncheon, hosted by the Houston Chronicle.

Traditionally held during National Nurses Week, the annual event aims to recognize the most dedicated nurses in Houston’s health care community. This year’s honorees included three faculty members and two students from Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston, as well as one registered nurse with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and its clinical practice, UT Physicians.

Kelli Galle, MSN, RN, a full-time clinical instructor in the Pacesetter BSN program at Cizik School of Nursing, was selected as one of the top 15 nurses across the Houston area. Before joining the nursing school faculty, Galle – who received her master’s degree from Cizik School of Nursing – worked as a nurse practitioner in hospice for seven years, helping patients live out the last parts of their lives comfortably and with dignity. Today, she encourages her students to allow themselves to be human.

“It’s acceptable to cry and show emotion in front of patients and their families. Although we have a huge workload and many tasks to complete, it’s important to show empathy and display grace and kindness,” Galle said. “Sometimes, the smallest gestures make the biggest impact on people.”

Additionally, three nurses were recognized as among the top 150 nurses in the Greater Houston area. Among them were Deniz Dishman, PhD, DNAP, and Daisy Mullassery, DNP, RN, both assistant professors with Cizik School of Nursing.

Dishman, an assistant professor in the nurse anesthesia program with more than 20 years of experience, maintains a clinical practice in the Texas Medical Center and primarily researches human factors in patient safety and the use of secondary data sources to address health care crises. Meanwhile, Mullassery has more than 30 years of nursing experience, with her research interests ranging from vaccine-preventable cancers to sexual- and gender-minority health care issues to curriculum development for health care education.

Belinda Figueroa, RN, who is affiliated with McGovern Medical School and the UT Physicians Women’s Center-Bellaire office, was also saluted as one of the top 150 nurses in the area. Figueroa, who joined the UT Physicians maternal-fetal medicine team in 2012, is recognized by her peers as a strong patient advocate.

“I assist patients in teaching them how to administer their at-home injections, manage their diagnoses, answer their questions when they are concerned something isn’t normal during pregnancy, and provide comfort to those who may not be experiencing a positive outcome,” Figueroa said. “I find it important to build rapport with all my patients, especially first-time moms.”

Two Cizik School of Nursing students – Cassandra Twinning, a BSN student, and Jessica Gomez, MSN, RN, a PhD candidate – were among only three students awarded $1,000 scholarships through the “Salute to Nurses” program.

Gomez, who is set to graduate in May 2023, is studying ways to improve the breastfeeding experience in neonatal intensive care units by examining the influence of the mother’s pumping location and her proximity to the infant on the perception of bonding and the overall breastfeeding experience.

“As a nurse and nurse practitioner in the NICU, it has always been my goal to connect the families with their infants by supporting bonding experiences and breaking barriers of anxiety and fear,” Gomez said.

Twinning, who has developed a passion for emergency medicine, will use the scholarship to help with the fees associated with her nursing licensure after she graduates this month. Eager to begin her new position in the emergency room of one of Houston’s well-known hospitals, Twinning looks forward to sharing her knowledge by teaching new nursing students one day.

“I truly feel it is a privilege to care for those in some of the hardest times of their lives. From personal and family experience, I know that hospitals can be scary and can sometimes come with devastating news attached,” Twinning said. “To make a difference in people’s lives or be the one person who made them more comfortable or safe is one of the greatest joys in my life.”