2008 - Alumni Award Recipients

The Alumni Award for Excellence in Nursing
Cynthia Gregory Waller
MSN ’97

VUSN - 2008 Alumni Award for Excellence in Nursing

The Alumni Award for Excellence in Nursing is presented annually to a graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing who is a national or international leader in nursing issues.


Cindy Waller is a nationally recognized expert in cardiac care. She served on the Board of Directors for the Society of Chest Pain Centers and Providers; she has served on state Certificate of Need committees focused on cardiac care; she is a member of the Accreditation Review Committee for the Society of Chest Pain centers where she reviews centers nationally for their ability to meet rigorous criteria. Cindy was one of the leaders who created a plan to introduce process improvement methodology to American hospitals in a manner that would allow them to easily understand their current acute coronary syndrome (ACS) care processes and change them for the better. Locally, Cindy has been the regional Cardiac Care Administrator for HCA Tristar region, and the Vice President for Quality Improvement for the South East Affiliate of the American Heart Association. Her Ph.D. research area of focus is heart disease for women and she has published in this area in peer reviewed journals.


“There are some nurses who do an admirable job of impacting their patients and their facilities. Cindy Waller has gone beyond that to impact the heart attack patient on an international scale in a meaningful manner.”--Robert Lipetz, Executive Director of the Society of Chest Pain Centers in Columbus, Ohio.


The Alumni Award for Clinical Achievement in Nursing
Diedra Freeman
 MSN ‘93

VUSN - 2008 Alumni Award for Clinical Achievement in Nursing

The alumni award for Clinical Achievement in Nursing is presented to a graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing for proficiency in clinical, patient-centered practice.

In 2003, Diedra Freeman joined the Nashville-Davidson Metro Public Health Department Division of Tuberculosis Elimination (TBE). She is a true life-long learner seeking formal and informal opportunities to enhance her knowledge and skills. Her greatest strengths lie in her ability to focus on each patient as an individual: to respect that patient and to understand and meet their individual needs. Her pleasant demeanor is comforting to tuberculosis patients, many of whom have difficult social situations in addition to their life-threatening infection.

Diedra is personally invested in the effort to eliminate the TB disparity among African Americans in this city. She serves on the Local Advisory Board for the Tennessee site of the TB Epidemiologic Studies Consortium, Task Order 23: “National Study of Determinants of Early Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention of Tuberculosis in African American Communities.  

“Diedra is an outstanding team player, always placing the patient first and conducting herself in a professional manner despite the intensity and stress of a busy TB clinic”--Jon Warkentin, MD, MPH, State TB Control Officer and Medical Director


Friend of Nursing
Rhonda Greer

VUSN - 2008 Alumni Award for Friend of Nursing

The Friend of Nursing Award recognizes significant local/national contributions to the profession of nursing from an individual who is not a nurse or Vanderbilt University School of Nursing alumnus.

Rhonda Greer has been employed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as a Research Coordinator for the Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Center for three years with pulmonary specialist, Dr. Lisa Lancaster and Wendi Mason, RN, MSN, ACNP-BC (VUSN ’03). She has been an incredible asset not only to the growth and development of this nationally recognized center, but also a wonderful caring member of the staff who holds genuine concern for the patients. Rhonda is a friend not only to nurses, but to the patients she serves as well.

Through Rhonda’s efforts, patients needs in terms of disease information, family counseling, visit and test scheduling, and review of their safety information are taken care of in a timely and compassionate manner.

“Largely due to her hard work and dedication, this site will contribute a substantial proportion of the total data for this international trial of a disease that is not only fatal, but for which there are no approved therapies and no therapies actually shown to be effective at changing the course of the disease. Rhonda’s contributions extend from her genuine and positive interactions with patients all the way to impacting medical science on an international level. On a personal level, she is delightful to work with!”—Nancy Wedel, MD, Medical Monitor, Clinical Science, InterMune, Inc. and Matthew McClure, MD, Director, Clincal Science, InterMune, Inc.


The President’s Award of Distinction
Dr. Elizabeth Cleino, BSN ‘44

VUSN - 2008 The President's Award of Distinction

The President’s Award of Distinction is presented to graduates of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing who are recognized for distinguished contributions to nursing and to their communities.

Elizabeth Cleino’s leadership was recognized during her undergraduate years, as she was President of her senior class of the School of Nursing. She has made major contributions  to health promotion and at the age of 86 she has not begun to slow down, would not know what to do with a rocking chair, and in her 64 years as a Vanderbilt Nurse—juggling marriage and a family of five children-- has never declined to aid someone who might need her help. In her first position, Dr. Cleino organized and directed a statewide effort to recruit students for the 13 schools of nursing in Tennessee. The next opportunity was to operate a Hospital School of Nursing at the University of Alabama.  The need to recognize and reward the achievements of excellence in nursing resulted in the establishment of the Nu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau with guidance from Vanderbilt, as usual.  Dr. Cleino was elected to serve as the Alabama State Nurses Association Representative on the State Health Planning Board which led to being employed to serve as the Executive Director of the Seven-County Area Health Planning Agency. She developed a cooperative program for the small rural hospitals led by the Regional Medical Center—among many other achievements.

In 1949, she was one of six nurses in the State of Alabama with a B.S. degree, then one of eight with a Master’s degree in 1956, and one of five with a doctorate in 1964. In 2000, she “retired” and became a volunteer—continuing her case management services as the Parish Nurse at Christ Episcopal Church where she is currently “looking after” five church members.


Honorary Alumnus
Dr. Naji Abumrad

VUSN - 2008 Honorary Alumnus

The Honorary Alumnus is awarded from time to time by the Vanderbilt School of Nursing Alumni Association in recognition of significant contributions to the Nursing School by an individual whose academic credentials were obtained elsewhere.

Naji Abumrad, MD is the chairman of the department of Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. After receiving his medical education in Lebanon, Naji immigrated to the United States in 1972, and continued his training. He decided to become an academic surgeon in 1979, and came to Vanderbilt.

Dr. Abumrad said his advice to young people and immigrants is “work hard, persevere, be honest and do not waiver, and you will succeed.”

He is currently working collaboratively with the School of Nursing on a project in Botswana South Africa. Through his efforts, he is assisting with the development of a new hospital which will provide much needed access to healthcare in the region. He is a true friend of nursing and a very strong partner in creating interdisciplinary health systems that integrate the key role that nurses play in the delivery of care.

Dr. Abumrad once said, “I was not trained at Vanderbilt, but I have ‘adopted” Vanderbilt as my alma mater.” We would like to officially adopt Dr. Naji Abumrad and it is our pleasure to name him as an Honorary Alumnus from the Vanderbilt School of Nursing.