National Leadership Awards

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) Honors Outstanding Individuals Each Year

AANP's National Leadership Awards — the Sharp Cutting Edge Award and the Towers Pinnacle Award — honor two individuals who have contributed significantly to the national recognition and advancement of nurse practitioners (NPs). Nominations for the 2020 AANP National Leadership Awards closed on March 11 and the recipients are honored below.


Sharp Cutting Edge Award

The Sharp Cutting Edge Award was initiated in February 1996 in honor of Nancy J. Sharp, MSN, RN, FAAN, an exemplar in the world of nursing organizational leadership for more than two decades. Nancy demonstrated a decisive positive influence for NPs, both professionally and politically. Not an NP herself, Nancy nevertheless left a legacy of early and steadfast service for NPs. Through her vision, foresight and service to the NP profession, Nancy focused on public policy issues clarifying the legislative and regulatory processes. She also utilized innovative strategies to meet major milestones as office staff and volunteer leader in national nursing organizations. Examples of her many accomplishments are: National President, American Nephrology Nurses Association (1981-1983); Director, Practice and Legislation, Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, Neonatal Nurses (1982-1990); Founding Director, Nurse in Washington Internship (1985-1992); Editor-Publisher, “The Nurse’s Directory of Capitol Connections: A Directory of Positions and Opportunities for Nurse Participation in Health Policy Development” (1991-2000); Nurse Representative, U.S. Joint Working Group on Telehealth (1993-1997).

Nancy Sharp introduces the 2020 Sharp Cutting Edge Award recipient.
  • 2020 Award Recipient

    Mary Jo Goolsby, EdD, MSN, NP-C, FAANP, was awarded the 2020 Sharp Cutting Edge Award. Goolsby has held a variety of professional practice, administrative and teaching positions, leveraging all opportunities to increase awareness of the NP role and challenge barriers to full practice authority. Her latest innovative and entrepreneurial endeavor was the establishment of the Institute of NP Excellence (INPE), which promotes excellence in NP practice and outcomes that are based on evidence and research. During her 11 years on staff with AANP, Goolsby created the AANP Fellows (FAANP) mentorship program, as well as the FAANP Forum Committee, both of which have been very active and have impacted hundreds of NPs. An emphasis on the technology, innovation and advocacy needed to impact and advance the NP role is evident in her more than 60 research projects, publications (three books, more than 30 articles and more than 100 presentations) and positions as a practitioner, educator, leader, researcher, mentor and national officer. Goolsby’s critical research has been conducted, analyzed and published, leading to improvements in NP-provided patient care.

  • 25 Years in 2021: Sharp Cutting Edge Award Recipients

    As of 2020, AANP is proud to have recognized eight Sharp Cutting Edge Award recipients, along with 15 recipients honored by the American College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP), for their leadership and innovation in advancing NP practice and patient care. In 2021, AANP will be celebrating 25 years of Sharp Cutting Edge Awards!

    Meet the awardees:

    • 1996 – Susan M. Sparks, PhD, RN, FAAN: For her work in the Office of Information Technology at the National Library of Medicine, where her contributions to support and assist NPs in acquiring technical skills necessary to navigate the internet and all its possibilities went above and beyond.
    • 1997 – Margie Koehler, MSN, RN, A/GNP: For her exquisite leadership in initiating the most effective national NP grassroots movement in nursing's history. Using an innovative email strategy, her outreach was intentionally timely, targeted and threaded with key feedback regarding the progress of challenges of the evolving legislation. As a result of this campaign, all NPs and clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) — regardless of practice specialty or geographic location — became eligible for Medicare reimbursement with passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. This effort laid the groundwork for NPs to be recognized by other third-party, commercial payors.
    • 1998 – Harriet L. Hellman, CPNP, MSN: For her outstanding contributions and achievements "above and beyond the call of duty" on behalf of the NP community and her constant vigilance and surveillance in the regulatory and legislative arena to address the barriers to NP practice.
    • 1999 – Carolyn Hutcherson, MS, RN, and Susan Williamson, MPH, RN: For their work to ensure that NPs can demonstrate solid regulatory authority for their expanded scope of practice. With increased acceptance of NPs as primary care providers, boards of nursing were facing increased pressure to document the basis upon which NPs were authorized to practice beyond the legal scope authorized for registered nurses (RNs). Through Hutcherson and Williamson's work while on staff of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), plus the efforts of many national NP organizations and NP certification organizations, examinations were developed to document competence and, thus, legal authority for NPs' expanded scope of practice.
    • 2000 – Robert T. Smithing, MSN, ARNP, FAANP: For his assistance identifying the technology needed to establish the ACNP website and the early NP directory. He was instrumental in setting up education and training workshops for NPs to assist them in communicating with each other online and utilizing the internet. He has served as a past president of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and served on the original board of the ACNP.
    • 2001 – Mary Anne Dumas, PhD, FNP-BC, GNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, FNAP: For her work as an innovator, educator, clinician, researcher and author. She served as editorial director of the American Journal of Nurse Practitioners, and represented ACNP on the From Awareness to Action Initiative in order to increase the rate of blood pressure awareness, treatment and control. She has published many articles on hypertension, one of which has been adopted for use in the hypertensive education of students in many NP, medical school and residency programs across the nation. She has been a faculty member in the State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook University's master's and post-master's programs (adult and family nurse practitioner). She has been a family nurse practitioner in the Northport Veteran's Affairs (VA) Medical Center Primary Care Program.
    • 2002 – No recipient.
    • 2003 – Susan J. Wysocki, RNC, WHNP, FAANP: For her work as founder of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) and ongoing service as president and chief executive officer (CEO). She was responsible for growing the organization from its infancy to membership mailings totaling more than 12,000 subscribers. As a women’s health activist, she testified before Congress, the Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding women’s health and the role of NPs. She has mentored countless other NPs to speak out so legislators throughout the United States hear their voices. She has given multiple presentations, written extensively and published tirelessly. She was the driving force behind the development of the NPWH journal, was a founding member of the ACNP and is a lifetime member. She supported ACNP throughout its infancy by housing the organization within the offices of NPWH providing immeasurable overhead support as the organization matured.
    • 2004 – Margaret A. Fitzgerald, DNP, FNP-BC, NP-C, CSP, FAAN, DCC, FAANP: For her vision and accomplishments in providing quality continuing education (CE) programs for practicing NPs. She is the leader in presenting exemplary certification review courses for students who have graduated and are preparing for certification in order to practice in the advanced practice nursing role. She founded and has served as president and principal speaker of Fitzgerald Health Education Associates (FHEA), an international provider of NP certification preparation and CE for health care providers. She has provided thousands of programs for numerous professional organizations, universities and national and state health care associations on a wide variety of topics. As an experienced educator, she has provided graduate-level pharmacology courses for NP students at a number of universities for more than 25 years.
    • 2005 – Mary Jane (MJ) Henderson, MS, RN, CS, GNP: For her status as an exemplary NP, whose vast contributions at the organizational and individual levels have advanced the profession. Her commitment to improving the image and visibility of NPs is the essence of this distinctive award. As a coalition builder, she served as president of the National Conference of Gerontological Nurse Practitioners (NCGNP) 2003–2004 and chaired the national NP marketing campaign 2001–2003 that united national NP organizations to promote the profession in the public and the media. She has also served in leadership positions with ACNP, American Nurses Association California, the California Association of Nurse Practitioners, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), the American Geriatrics Society and Sigma Theta Tau International. By sustaining active involvement in multiple organizations, she has been successful in advancing common issues broadly across the NP community.
    • 2006 – Patsy Leavitt, MS, FNP: For her contributions at the organizational and individual levels and her commitment to improving the image and visibility of NPs. She has been an NP leader at the state and national level, striving for advancements for the NP profession. She is a past president of the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association (MNPA), where she provided leadership in a grassroots movement in 1999 to pass legislation requiring third-party reimbursement of NPs. She also led grassroots effort in Maine in 1995 to secure federal Medicare reimbursement for NPs. She served on the board of directors for ACNP as secretary and was active in starting ACNP's first long-term strategic planning process.
    • 2007 – Sandra F. Ryan, RN, MSN, CPNP, FCPP, FAANP, FAAN: For her leadership in the creation, establishment and formulation of the convenient care industry, which helped to place NPs at the forefront of delivering accessible patient care. As chief nurse practitioner officer (CNPO) for Take Care Health Systems, she was one of six founding officers and was the first CNPO in the convenient care industry, paving the way for nursing leadership in this new model of health care. She was instrumental in the development of a proprietary electronic medical record system, ensuring its creation from the NPs' point of view.
    • 2008 – Tine Hansen-Turton, JD: For her outstanding commitment to the NP role and her global promotion of NPs as primary health care providers. While not a nurse herself, as CEO of the National Nursing Centers Consortium (NNCC) and vice president of Health Care Access and Policy at Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), she has been a leading force in the evolution of new models of health care delivery by utilizing the unique expertise of NPs and by leading a national movement of nurse-managed health centers for the past decade.
    • 2009 – Michael J. Loughran: For his tireless commitment and advocacy on behalf of NPs. As executive vice president for the Nurses Service Organization (NSO), he co-authored a 10-year study of malpractice cases involving NPs, sharing never-before-seen data combining NP claims data with results from a national NP survey developed by NSO after significant input from NPs around the nation.
    • 2010 – No recipient.
    • 2011 – Carolyn Hutcherson, MS, RN, ACNP CEO: For her leadership in the development and implementation of the Nurse Practitioner Roundtable, an essential mechanism that facilitates the coordination of federal legislative efforts for issues of paramount importance to NPs and their patients. The NP community's appreciation of her leadership, dedication and outstanding efforts cannot be overstated.
    • 2012 – Kathleen M. White, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN: For her leadership and advocacy in the development of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) National NP Sample Survey, highlighting "the critical role that NPs play in providing a variety of services to patients in multiple settings." She is a professor at John Hopkins University School of Nursing and has served as chairperson of the American Nursing Association Congress on Nursing Practice and Economics (2006–2010) and as senior adviser to the Center for Health Workforce Analysis (2010–2013).
    • 2013 – Susan C. Reinhard, RN, PhD, FAAN: For her work as senior vice president at AARP®, where she directs its Public Policy Institute, the focal point for state, federal and international policy research. She also serves as chief strategist for the Center to Champion Nursing in America. She is a nationally recognized expert in health and long-term care with extensive experience in conducting, directing and translating research to promote policy change.
    • 2014 – Julie Cowan Novak, DNSc, RN, CPNP, FAANP, FAAN: For her extraordinary and innovative leadership in the development and implementation of new service delivery models to enhance access to care through nurse-managed clinics.
    • 2015 – Judith S. Dempster, DNSc, FNP, FAANP: For her leadership as the first executive director of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Foundation as well as her role in the development of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (now the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board), AANP Corporate Council and AANP Fellows program.
    • 2016 – Rick Meadows, MS, ANP-C, FAANP: For his extraordinary certification activities on behalf of NPs in local, regional, national and international settings. His many accomplishments and leadership skills will continue to influence the removal of practice barriers, allowing patients greater direct access to the many services NPs provide.
    • 2017 – Bernadette J. Melnyk, PhD, RN, CPNP/PMHNP, FNAP, FAAN, FAANP: For her representation of NPs in health care settings nationally and internationally. She has endeavored to assure NPs receive excellent education while representing NPs at the highest level of our nation’s health care policy arena. Her expertise in evidence-based practice, through initiatives such as Million Hearts®, is truly cutting edge in leading and advancing the profile and visibility of NPs.
    • 2018 – Angela Patterson, DNP, FNP-BC, NEA-BC, FAANP: For her exemplary efforts and tireless work in advocating for hundreds of pieces of legislation in more 25 states, improving health care through the retail clinic model and helping to set the standard for the use of electronic health records and record sharing in retail clinics. She has consistently supported, strengthened and grown the NP workforce pipeline, and she has transformed advanced practice nursing in this era of globalization through exemplary leadership and innovation, both nationally and internationally.
    • 2019 – Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, FAAN: For her tireless work as a champion of advanced practice nursing as well as a staunch advocate for the NP role. Through her appointment as administrator of HRSA by President Barack Obama in 2009, she directed key elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In July 2015 she was appointed United States Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, serving in this capacity until the conclusion of the Obama Administration. Her work on health care issues at the international level, and as a consultant for the Global Programme on Aids at the World Health Organization, has improved access to health care for millions of patients and played a major role in strengthening the nation’s health care safety net.
    • 2020 – Mary Jo Goolsby, EdD, MSN, NP-C, FAANP: For her innovative and entrepreneurial establishment of the Institute for NP Excellence (INPE) with its mission to promote NP practice and deliver evidence- and research-based outcomes. Emphasis on the technology, innovation and advocacy needed to impact and advance the NP role was demonstrated through her positions as a practitioner, educator, leader, researcher, mentor and national officer. Her influence while on staff at AANP — directing research, education and professional practice, as well as through the creation of the FAANP Mentorship Program and Forum Committee — continues to provide direction for the positive growth of the organization. She has held a variety of professional practice, administrative and teaching positions and is a highly regarded nursing researcher, lecturer, educator and leader.
  • Selection Criteria

    The recipient of the Sharp Award should demonstrate extraordinary service activities on behalf of NPs. The individual nominated may be an NP, nurse or non-nurse who has demonstrated exceptional belief and confidence in NPs and shown efforts to advance the image, profile and visibility of NPs by serving in one or more of the following areas:

    • Utilizing innovative services, technologies or advocacy tools to advance NPs and NP practice as an essential service for patients.
    • Leading innovative strategic efforts to resolve a long-standing onerous legislative or regulatory issue for NPs.
    • Developing a coalition and/or a multidisciplinary workgroup, including consumers and NPs, to work together to solve a health care and/or health system problem affecting a particular patient population or community.
    • Implementing critical research to provide improvements in NP-provided patient care.
    • Publishing outstanding work on behalf of NPs and NP practice.
    • Providing exemplary service to a NP professional organization.
    • Conducting other exemplary work on behalf of NPs and NP practice.

Towers Pinnacle Award

The Towers Pinnacle Award was launched in 2013 by the AANP Board of Directors of in honor of Jan Towers, PhD, NP-C, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP, an accomplished and much admired leader in the NP movement. Dr. Towers has been at the forefront of legislative and regulatory issues, guiding health policy initiatives to ensure that NPs and their patients are represented wherever health care is being discussed. She has informed and educated numerous NPs on issues related to health policy through presentations at regional and national conferences. Her steadfast commitment, keen insight and vigilance have served to guide and direct NPs toward their current recognition as reimbursable providers of high-quality health care nationwide. The result of her life’s work is increased awareness by legislators and the general public of NPs’ contributions to health care, as well as advancement in expanding the scope of practice for NPs, advocating for equity in pay for services and expanding the commitment of NP professional organizations to provide leadership on health policy issues. Recipients of this prestigious award should exemplify Dr. Towers’ advocacy, passion and dedication to the advancement of the NP role through policy, practice and education.

Dr. Towers introduces the 2020 Towers Pinnacle Award.
  • 2020 Award Recipient

    The 2020 Towers Pinnacle Award was presented to Sheldon D. Fields, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, AACRN, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, for his long-term work as a front-line family nurse practitioner (FNP) in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In 2009, Fields was the first male nurse chosen to be a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow. He worked as a health care policy advisor for Senator Barbara Mikulski, whose office played a key role in the passage of the ACA. As a nurse leader, Fields’ work with the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) — the world’s largest HIV nursing organization — demonstrates his strong commitment to nursing research and practice. Fields’ work as an NP and scientist transcends both behavioral and clinical trials, and he was recently selected as a co-investigator on a large, multi-site Phase IIb/Phase III clinical trial (HIV Prevention Trials Network [HPTN] 083) investigating an injectable medication for HIV prevention. His work continues to move the field of culturally tailored prevention science forward while increasing awareness of NP-led clinical trials and scientific excellence both within the HPTN, as well as in the global field of HIV research.

  • Past Award Recipients

    Meet the awardees:

    • 2013 – Barbara J. Safriet, JD, LLM, FAANP: Dr. Safriet has been a tireless advocate for NPs and has worked to promote legislation that advances the NP role. Her landmark publication, "Health Care Dollars and Regulatory Sense: The Role of Advanced Practice Nursing (1993)," clearly articulates the value of advanced practice nurses from both a quality and economic perspective.
    • 2014 – Mona Counts, PhD, CRNP, FNAP, FAANP, FAAN: Dr. Counts has been a prominent voice in support of and in commitment to the advancement and recognition of the NP role through health policy efforts at the national and state levels, her independent practice and her experience as a nurse educator. She has held many leadership positions with AANP, including state representative, regional director, treasurer and president, and she is one of the founding Fellows of FAANP.
    • 2015 – Charon Pierson, PhD, GNP, FAANP, FAAN: Dr. Pierson has made numerous contributions to education, research, practice, publication, mentorship and policy as editor-in-chief of the Journal for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (JAANP) and through her work to increase public awareness of the NP role. Dr. Pierson has published extensively on ethics in publication and has served on the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Council. She is a well-known national expert in this area. As a researcher, she has been published nationally and internationally on issues related to the care of the elderly.
    • 2016 – Mary Ellen Roberts, DNP, APN-C, FNAP, FAANP, FAAN: Dr. Roberts is a charter member of the Board of Trustees for the AANP Political Action Committee and is an AANP Fellow. Her professional activities include treasurer on the Board of Commissioners of the AANP Certification Board (AANPCB) and test developer and item writer for the AANPCB Adult and Family Nurse Practitioner National Certification Exams. Dr. Roberts has served on the AANP Board of Directors as Region 2 director, recording secretary and president.
    • 2017 – Penny Kaye Jensen, DNP, FNP-C, FAAN, FAANP: Dr. Jensen has demonstrated extraordinary leadership on behalf of NPs and their patients in local, regional and national settings. Her many accomplishments and efforts to increase visibility of NPs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing for direct patient access to the multitude of services provided by NPs, continues to positively impact the health of the nation. She has been a leader in numerous state and national NP associations and served as AANP state representative, regional director and president.
    • 2018 – Capt. James L. Dickens, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP: Dr. Dickens is recognized for his work in the Uniformed Services of the United States for more than 31 years and for his advancement of the health of minority and underserved populations through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He has exhibited exemplary command of health care teams and made a true difference in the lives of patient populations worldwide, alerting the global health community to the critical NP role.
    • 2019 – Joyce Pulcini, PhD, PNP-BC, FAAN, FAANP: Dr. Pulcini is recognized for her many significant contributions to NP practice and patient care through policy work, development programs and international support of the NP role. Her expertise is on the evolving roles of NPs throughout the world, with a focus on NP education, reimbursement, political advocacy and removal of barriers to practice. She is also instrumental in establishing one of the first international journals for nurse practitioners.
    • 2020 – Sheldon D. Fields, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, AACRN, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN: Dr. Fields is honored for his long-term work as a front-line FNP in the fight against HIV/AIDS. His work continues to move the field of culturally tailored prevention science forward while increasing awareness of NP-led clinical trials and scientific excellence. As a thought leader in the HIV Prevention Trials Network, a group of the country’s most influential HIV prevention experts, his work has been disseminated as best practices approach for HIV prevention globally.
  • Selection Criteria

    The recipient of the Towers Pinnacle Award will demonstrate ongoing advocacy activities that elevate and highlight NP contributions to health care. The individual nominated will preferably be an NP; however, consideration will be given to other individuals who have made outstanding contributions resulting in increased recognition of NPs and increased opportunities for NPs to provide care to patients through ongoing work in policy, practice and education in one or more of the following areas:

    • Making significant contributions on a national level to health policy, practice and/or education that have had a positive impact on NPs and their patients.
    • Demonstrating dedication to the recognition and promotion of the NP role within the health care system.
    • Providing mentorship and developed leadership in policy, practice and/or education.
    • Using diligence in articulating NP issues to multiple stakeholders.
    • Identifying and removing barriers to effective NP practice.
    • Increasing public awareness of the NP role.