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Honoring service excellence: Meet the newest Strauss Award winners

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This quarter’s winners of the Diana and Richard C. Strauss Service Excellence Awards stretch across many departments – from Pharmacy and Anesthesia to Neurology, Otolaryngology, and Patient Access.

Once every three months, six employees within the Health System are recognized for exemplifying excellence and professionalism in all they do. The awards are supported through the ongoing generosity of Diana and Richard Strauss.

Three things define and unite Strauss Award winners:

  • They excel at their jobs.
  • They serve as role models for the next generation of employees.
  • They share a spirit of volunteerism that strengthens our community.

Winners for the first quarter of 2022 were celebrated on Friday, May 13, at a virtual event hosted by John Warner, M.D., Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs and Health System CEO.

Curious who they are? Here’s a quick introduction to each of them. And you can also view a video recording of the virtual event below.

Watch: Dr. Warner honors winners during the virtual event.



Nick Edwards, CPhT

Pharmacy Tech
Cancer Center Pharmacy

“Our patients love Nick! Nick gets PACT cards very often. Some of our patients even check with him about what baked goods he likes so they can make something for him. The fact that patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments take the time to do something special for Nick speaks a lot about him.”

– Strauss Award nominator
Nick Edwards

His UTSW career: Mr. Edwards said he found a silver lining after the independent pharmacy where he was working went out of business in the fall of 2020. He happened across a job listing at UTSW and landed the position. As a North Texas native, he said he couldn’t be happier with the way things have worked out, noting “I just got really lucky.”

In his role: His job requires customer service to help guide chemotherapy patients to the life-saving medicine they need.

“We are responsible for receiving and processing chemotherapy prescriptions,” Mr. Edwards said. “We also try to help people get their medicine at a reasonable cost by finding them assistance they might not have known was available. Newly diagnosed patients sometimes feel that they’re sort of lost in the process and they have a ton of questions. I try to talk to them and lay it out and help them understand so they can focus on the most important thing – healing.”

Favorite part of the job: “I love working with our patients because they’re always grateful for help we can give them. We love it when they come by to say hello after they’re done with their treatment or when they stop in to tell us their counts and that they’re doing better. … I love being that person our patients trust and know I’m there to take care of them.”

Off the clock: Mr. Edwards’ hobbies include designing and building home theater systems and watching movies and listening to music in their ultimate form.

“I love the art of music and movies, and a dash of gaming,” he said. “I also love the technology behind it all, from speakers to cables and TVs that makes movies and music come to life.”


E. Jamaal Hawkins, M.S.N., CRNA (R)

Nurse Anesthetist and Clinical Education Coordinator
Anesthesiology and Pain Management

“Ever since I met Jamaal, he has always strived to do more. He’s worked hard to give himself opportunities and to stay current with the latest developments, skills, and technologies. Jamaal was selected to take over the vacant educator position, so he is responsible for a variety of training and development duties related to the students. He does a great job working with CRNA staff as a preceptor.”

– Strauss Award nominator
E. Jamaal Hawkins

His UTSW career: Mr. Hawkins has been employed by the Health System for nearly seven years. Originally attracted by the opportunity to work at one of the country’s premier academic medical centers, he’s stayed because UTSW has helped him to grow in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He takes a lot of pride in the fact that he arrived just after William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital opened its doors and that he’s had a chance to help build its culture of care.

In his role: As an anesthetist, Mr. Hawkins volunteered to work with higher acuity cardiac patients, taking on more demanding cases. A typical day in the OR requires him to be at the hospital by 6:30 a.m. Upon arrival, he talks about plans for each of the day’s patients with members of the surgery teams. He takes care of three or four surgery patients daily, sedating them for operations, monitoring dozens of parameters during surgery, then waking up patients before turning over the surgery suite for the next patient. As a clinical educator, Mr. Hawkins helps coordinate students from five universities that partner with UTSW for anesthesia training.

Favorite part of the job: “I love working with the patients and navigating the challenges of each case to find the best ways to best care for them. It’s an awesome feeling to know you’re helping to change lives for the better.”

Off the clock: When he’s not working, Mr. Hawkins has several hobbies that keep him busy, including blowing out tunes on his trumpet and pumping iron in his DIY gym. He also enjoys spending time with his wife, Elizabeth, whom he met when she worked as a charge nurse at UTSW.


Josephine Tenii, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCCCP

Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Neurosurgical ICU
Pharmacy, Acute Care

“Josephine is someone we could all use in our shirt pocket. She is a walking reference of pharmacologic information and a resource during daily rounds – all day, actually – to help guide and direct treatment to our critically ill patients. Patient care is vastly improved when Josephine is on shift.”

– Strauss Award nominator
Josephine Tenii

Her UTSW career: When she came to UTSW in 2016, Mrs. Tenii was excited by the opportunity to work in an accomplished hospital known for top-notch patient care while also satisfying her passion for teaching her craft to the next generation of pharmacy specialists.

In her role: “In addition to having an administrative role, I round with the neuro ICU team. We have a multidisciplinary rounding module, and I assist with tasks such as determining the right medications for patients, as well as sedation and epileptic management.”

Sharing knowledge: Recently, Mrs. Tenii presented on “COVID-19-Related Hypercoagulability and Stroke Management” as part of UTSW’s Neurocritical Care Lecture Series.

Favorite part of the job: “I really enjoy the multidisciplinary approach to patient care. Everyone contributes a lot to the care of the patients. UTSW allows you to practice at the highest level of your skills. I always brag about the team here. I feel very privileged to work with this group. Just doing what I do every day, taking care of patients – it’s an honor to work here.”

Off the clock: “I have two kids, Malik, who is 10, and Ameera, who is 7, and I am a soccer mom. I’m one of the loudest cheerers out there every game. I also love gardening. That’s my biggest stress-reliever, growing vegetables and colorful flowers.”


Thuy-Tien Ho, M.P.A.S., PA-C

Neurocritical Care Physician Assistant

“Tien does an excellent job communicating with patients, families, nursing staff, consulting teams, and her own teammates about plans of care and updates in patient conditions. The nurses find her highly approachable and view her as a clinical resource. She sets the bar very high for herself and strives to give 100% every day, only leaving when the job is done.”

– Strauss Award nominator
Thuy-Tien Ho

Her UTSW career: Mrs. Ho joined UT Southwestern as a Physician Assistant in 2013. Immediately, her colleagues recognized her drive, compassion, and leadership potential.

In her role: She says she comes to every shift working in the Neuro ICU with a fresh mind. Because most of the patients are critically ill, it can be a high-pressure environment, Mrs. Ho said. “I have to stay calm to perform my best, as time is of the essence in treating brain injuries. It’s comforting to know that I work with a dedicated, experienced, and compassionate multidisciplinary team” that’s laser-focused on making the patient better.

Working on the cutting edge of medicine: “The brain has the ability to allow emergence of consciousness and personality. We can see the same stroke, but each patient is unique. How we care for the individual patient is not only based on the blood vessel and neuroanatomy but also the patient’s wishes, thoughts, feelings, culture and beliefs, and quality of life. Here, I have the opportunity to practice the most advanced and innovative medicine as new research and best-practice guidelines are published.”

Favorite part of the job: “I love the collaboration of medical expertise within our Neurocritical Care, Neurology, and Neurosurgery teams. We value and trust each other in the management of our patients; everyone involved has an exceptional medical background. It’s not just my job; it’s my passion. It’s not about the amount of time I spend here – it’s about the purpose that I serve.”

Off the clock: “I have 7- and 9-year-old daughters, Sophie and Emily, who mean the world to me. I’m married to my best friend and soulmate whom I’ve known since the fourth grade. I love spending time and traveling with my family to experience different places in the world, trying new food, swimming, hiking, ice skating, and kayaking.”


Laura Puente

Clinical Staff Assistant III
Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

“Laura always strives for patient satisfaction and ensures that patients receive the best quality of care. She ensures that everyone is aware of changes or needs. She provides excellent customer service, making sure we treat our patients like she would like to be treated.”

– Strauss Award nominator
Laura Puente

Her UTSW career: Mrs. Puente arrived at UT Southwestern about five years ago, and said she enjoys a rewarding position coordinating surgery for cochlear implant patients.

In her role: Mrs. Puente works with four audiologists and three neurologists, coordinating cases with surgery schedulers and getting approvals for patients. She keeps people informed about where they are in the process, helping to remove hurdles to ensure the best outcome in order to save or restore their hearing.

Gratitude for the small things: “The job can be difficult, but it is also very rewarding,” she said. “People are very grateful at the end of their long journey, including for all the little things, such as when we order items they need when they can’t talk on the phone due to their hearing.”

Favorite part of the job: “I love being able to help people. I have a team of audiology assistants I work with and we’re a tight-knit group. Everyone is willing to help each other. It’s a great team and everyone is positive all around.”

Off the clock: Away from work, Mrs. Puente loves to play soccer and volleyball, sports she’s enjoyed since she was a kid that she hopes to pass on to her three daughters. She’s played soccer since she was 4 years old.

“My dad put me in it, and I fell in love with it right away,” Mrs. Puente said. “I have clear memories of playing in middle school. We lost to a team 8-0 the first time we played them. We worked really hard and the second time we played them, we narrowly lost by one goal. After the game, their coach came over and complimented me on how much better I played. I’ve always been inspired by that.”


Gabriela Rodriguez

Patient Access Representative III
Admissions Team at Clements University Hospital

“Gabby is an instrumental player in the success of our Department! She works in the Apheresis Clinic at CUH and is the only Patient Access Rep in this area. She owns this area and handles it with minimal supervision. … Gabby is an informal leader in our Department due to her organizational skills and patient-centered approach.”

– Strauss Award nominator
Gabriela Rodriguez

Her UTSW career: Mrs. Rodriguez is celebrating her 14th anniversary with UT Southwestern this month. She began in Guest and Patient Services at Zale Lipshy Pavilion and currently serves as a Patient Access Representative in the Apheresis Clinic at Clements University Hospital. Her nominator says she advanced in her UTSW career because of her strong work ethic and genuine interest in helping people navigate their path to health.

In her role: Mrs. Rodriguez arrives by 7 a.m. each day to organize her plans for the steady stream of patients she will assist throughout her shift. She said on an average day she works with 27 people; some of them are longtime patients she’s developed a rapport with. Others, she said, are new patients looking for an ally they can count on.

First impressions: “I am the first person patients have contact with when they walk in the door, so I know it’s important that I have a smile on my face and make them feel comfortable,” Mrs. Rodriguez said. “I also try to help people by organizing their schedule so they don’t have to make too many trips and they are taken care of efficiently.”

Favorite part of the job: “I love to make people’s day go more smoothly, whether it’s my co-workers or the patients. I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but it makes me happy that I can play a role and contribute to helping people get better.”

Off the clock: Even when she isn’t at work, it’s important for Mrs. Rodriguez to share her smile with others. She spends time serving as a greeter at her church, where she is also part of the Women’s Leadership Team, and volunteering at a nonprofit organization in Irving that benefits middle school and high school students called All Things Made New.


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