November 2, 2007

James named Nashville employee of the year

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VUMC nurse Sonnie James, right, with Marci Hess of the Nashville Employment Consortium.

James named Nashville employee of the year

Vanderbilt University Medical Center Neurology Clinics nurse and lung transplant recipient Sonnie James, R.N., recently received the Employee of the Year Award from the Nashville Area Employment Consortium.

James was one of eight people recognized and was commended for overcoming her health challenges to be a vital part of the workforce.

“Sonnie is a big part of the personality of the clinics,” said Dan Moreschi, manager of the Neurology Clinics. “She comes in early, often stays late and volunteers for almost everything imaginable. “

A career changer, James earned her R.N. degree at age 50 and became a floor nurse. Three years into her career she had to go on disability because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Eventually, she had to have a lung transplant, which she agreed to because she though it might allow her to return to work.

After her surgery, James sought help in finding a job from the Vanderbilt Transplant Return-to-Work Program, which is funded by the Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services. Since she could only lift 10 pounds, she could not continue as a floor nurse. Instead, nine months after her surgery, she began working 28 hours per week as a telephone triage nurse. She eventually worked up to full-time, and has worked continuously since. During the past 10 years, she has held four nursing positions at Vanderbilt — all involving giving service by phone to patients, family members and physicians.

“Sonnie sees her lung transplant as a gift of additional time to enjoy life and make a contribution,” said Moreschi.

In her role at the Neurology Clinics, she works in a department of 53 neurologists and 44 employees who see approximately 30,000 patients a year. Part of a triage team, James handles roughly 75 triage calls a day and develops a special rapport with each patient.