In This Section

Press Contact

Robert Rosseter
AACN Chief Communications Officer
(202) 463-6930 ext. 231



About the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for academic nursing representing more than 850 schools of nursing nationwide. AACN establishes quality standards for nursing education, influences the nursing profession to improve health care, and promotes public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice. 



AACN Awards CNL Visionary Leader and Vanguard Awards

Published December 22, 2015

AACN and CNC Awards CNL Visionary Leaders and CNL Vanguard Awards to 
Forerunners in the National Clinical Nurse Leader Movement

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 22, 2015 – The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is pleased to announce that Grace Sotomayor, Chief Nursing Executive at Carolinas Medical Center, and Mary Lou Wesley, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer of the Sparrow Health System, are the joint recipients of the 2016 CNL Visionary Leader Award. The highest honor presented by AACN to practice leaders making significant contributions to advancing the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) initiative. The awards will be presented at the 2016 CNL Summit in Long Beach, CA this upcoming January 14, 2016. The CNL Vanguard Awards, which recognize the innovative work of CNL-certified nurses and CNL nurse educators, will also be presented to Robert J. LaPointe from the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA and Sally O'Toole Gerard from Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT. 
"Introducing a new nursing role into the healthcare delivery system takes vision, courage, and leadership, as well as sustained efforts." said AACN President and CEO, Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN.  "AACN commends the groundbreaking work of these two leaders to integrate the CNL into their healthcare systems as a mechanism for enhancing care coordination, strengthening outcome-based practice, and enhancing patient safety. We are also very pleased to honor Robert LaPointe and Sally Gerard for illustrating how certified CNLs are re-envisioning team-based care and how academic leaders are working to improve the patient experience through CNL education." 
The CNL is an emerging nursing role developed by AACN in collaboration with leaders from education and practice to improve the quality of patient care and better prepare nurses to thrive in today's healthcare system in any setting. These master's-prepared clinicians put evidence-based practice into action to ensure that patients benefit from the latest innovations in care delivery. The CNL evaluates patient outcomes, identifies risk, coordinates care, and implements quality improvement strategies. 
First presented in 2010, the CNL Visionary Leader Award recognizes the long-standing and substantial accomplishments of an individual to the development, promotion, and integration of the CNL role in U.S. health care. These noteworthy accomplishments are underscored by an unremitting commitment to the education and advancement of the CNL role and to efforts that have helped to maximize and sustain the impact of the role. The CNL Vanguard Award was introduced in 2012 by AACN and the Commission on Nurse Certification – the autonomous agency charged with overseeing the CNL certification process – to recognize the innovative and outstanding professional performance of a certified CNL on the frontlines of improving health care. First presented in 2015, the CNL Educator Vanguard Award distinguishes an academic leader for innovative and exemplary efforts to prepared highly qualified CNLs.

Meet the 2016 Award Recipients

CNL Visionary Award

Grace Sotomayor, DNP, RN, FACHE, NEA-BC, CNL, is the Chief Nursing Executive at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, NC. She has been serving as the Chief Nurse Executive of the system's Central Division. Prior to joining Carolinas HealthCare System, she served as Vice President, Patient Care Services and Chief Nurse for SSM DePaul Health Center in St. Louis, MO. SSM is the first healthcare winner of the Malcolm Bridge Award. Dr. Sotomayor's work is a reflection of the competency, compassion, commitment, and dedication to excellent patient care that characterize CNLs nationwide.   

Mary Lou Wesley, MSN, RN, joined Sparrow Health System in Lansing, MI in December of 2014. Sparrow has achieved Magnet recognition for excellence in nursing services, placing the hospital among the top 6% in the nation. Prior to Sparrow, she served for three years as Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Executive at WellStar Health System in Marietta, GA,. She previously held the position of Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Nursing Services for eight years at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor.  Ms. Wesley has been instrumental in making the CNL an instrumental part of health care delivery and advancing quality patient care at all three systems. 

CNL Vanguard Award 

Robert J. LaPointe, MSN, RN, CNL, CCRN, is the immediate Past-President of the Clinical Nurse Leader Association (CNLA).  During his term, he increased CNLA membership by 45% and its value to members, developed 5 regional chapters, developed a strategic plan for growth in cooperation with the Commission on Nursing Certification (CNC) and strengthened the working relationship between CNLA and CNC. Since 2013, he has worked as a CNL at Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center (CMC VAMC). During his tenure at CMCVAMC, he has contributed, on a sustained basis, to improving the quality of care for veteran patients. His initial and ongoing emphasis is the use of telemetry which has resulted in the sustained reduction of telemetry demands and of overflow to ICUs and patients held in the Emergency Department. Recently selected as a member of the newly formed CNL Field Advisory Committee to the Office of Nursing Service, he continues to develop strategies to support and strengthen CNL practice within the Veterans Health Administration. 
CNL Educator Vanguard Award 

Sally O'Toole Gerard, DNP, RN, CNL, CDE, is a leader in the CNL movement who has been involved in the development and support of the national CNL initiative since its inception. Currently serving as a professor at Fairfield University, she found new ways to enhance the curriculum and expanded enrollment with a parallel master's program in nursing leadership that won the AACN Innovations in Professional Nursing Education Award. In addition to her innovative teaching and learning practices, Dr. Gerard maintains an active clinical practice at Stamford Hospital in which she works as a certified diabetes nurse education. Her research, recently published in Journal of Professional Nursing, Nurse Leader and The Diabetes Educator, demonstrate her clinical and academic scholarship. Dr. Gerard is a long-time advocate for the CNL role. In addition to her dedication to curricular innovation, she has shared nationally her expertise on curriculum development, program design, project outcomes and the need for a more highly prepared workforce.