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Meet Our 2023 Celebrate Caring Winners

A nurse smiles alongside the phrase 'Celebrate Caring'

Nurses are the heart of health care. Their acts of kindness and compassion — big and small — make a difference in the lives of people each day.

For the fifth year, the Independence Blue Cross (Independence) Celebrate Caring campaign proudly shines a light on extraordinary nurses in our region. We’ve selected three winners and seven finalists from hundreds of nominations from patients, coworkers, family, and friends — the people who have been touched by their compassion and commitment to nursing excellence.

These amazing nurses have gone above and beyond for patients and their families and the community. We recognize their dedication and thank them for everything they do.

Congratulations to this year’s winners!

Christina Milligan, CRNP
CHOP Primary Care, Paoli

With youth mental health issues on the rise, Christina provides much needed behavioral health support to children and teens. In her role at CHOP, she manages care for those struggling with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Through this work, she develops meaningful relationships with patients and their families and serves as a mentor for her fellow nursing staff.

One nominator said: “Christina was quick to embrace me into the practice as a provider, willingly sharing her expertise of pediatric medicine and notably her distinct impact on adolescent mental health…She goes above and beyond for her patients and her level of compassion is palpable with each of her teenage patients who are suffering from mental health disorders. She is inclusive, accepting, listens attentively, and expresses genuine concern. She stays late, calls her patients to check on their progress, and reaches into the community to find support systems for them to optimize care.”

Headshot of winner Christina Milligan

Juju Riggins, RN, BSN
Pathways to Housing PA

With exceptional persistence and patience, Juju improves lives daily through her work at Pathways to Housing PA. She is passionate about improving the health and well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness and substance use disorders throughout Philadelphia.

Her nominator said: “Juju’s passion for serving individuals experiencing homelessness and those battling challenges related to opioid use is unparalleled…Juju guides our staff through the many complex challenges our participants face and helps the team navigate care coordination to improve the participants’ health and well-being. One day, you may find Juju changing the dressing on a participant’s wound in the heart of Kensington, and on another, you can find her helping a participant clean their apartment across the city. Juju’s motto is to ‘do whatever it takes to better our participants’ lives’.”

Headshot of Juju Riggins

Leah Santos, RN, BSN
Penn Transplant Institute

Beyond her unique role as a Liver Tumor Coordinator at Penn Transplant Institute, Leah is committed to serving her community. She is on the board and volunteers with The Sunday Love Project, helping people who are experiencing food insecurity. In addition to participating in the organization’s community initiatives, Leah also keeps care packages on hand in the trunk of her car to distribute as needed.

Leah’s nominator wrote: “Leah is a pillar in the community when it comes to helping those in need…Leah helped me to care for my own health and talked me through my fear of seeing doctors. My issues could have become severe if not for her guidance. Leah does not spend one day not helping others, whether it is at work, filling community refrigerators, or picking up excess food to be delivered to nonprofit organizations that serve the community. Leah goes above and beyond every day and makes herself available to anyone in need.”

Headshot of Leah Santos

Thank you to our winners for helping to keep our families and communities safe and healthy! We talked with them to learn more about their nursing experiences and get their viewpoint on what they want to see in the future for nursing.

IBX: What inspired you to become a nurse?

Milligan: I have always been a nurturer from as long as I can remember. I loved taking care of my younger siblings, was always the friend checking in, and became an instant mom at a very young age to my older three children. I then proceeded to have another three for a total of six beautiful children, and I honestly was never drawn to any other profession. Nothing else ever crossed my mind. I knew this was my passion.

Riggins: It’s one of those things where they say if you’d do something for free that’s how you know you have the job that’s for you. I do it outside of work as well. And I always take phone calls, like I’m never off work. I will answer the phone at 1 a.m. if my patient is in the hospital…I just enjoy what I do.

Santos: I didn’t really have an “Aha” moment that I can recall. But, I’ve always felt that I have a healing spirit, and I wanted to channel it in a way that could benefit people. Nurses are healers — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

IBX: What is the most enjoyable aspect of nursing and why?

Milligan: The most enjoyable aspect of nursing to me is the bond I get to make with my patients and their families. I love the education and anticipatory guidance I can provide, but I also want my patients and their parents/guardians to know I deeply care about them and treat them as if they were my own family.

Riggins: I just feel like I love it here at Pathways. I love my job. I love what I do. I love all the staff. I love my patients. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Santos: The most enjoyable aspect of nursing is that it is a journey of lifelong learning. What I know today is truly a drop in the ocean. Patients are the greatest teachers.

IBX: How do you practice self-care and manage the stress that comes with the job?

Milligan: My children are my form of self-care. They are my world, and when I can be focused on them and be present, the stress disappears. I also like to exercise and am a member of Barre®, which is a form of exercise that also focuses on being mindful and that has helped me tremendously.

Riggins: Two things stand out for me. First of all, I pray all the time, every day. Prayer keeps me sane and balanced. And I’m a professional body builder. So, I like to work out, run, and lift — that’s like my other life.

Santos: Tending to my plants helps me manage stress. I also love getting lost in a good book!

IBX: What is your biggest hope for the future of nursing and why?

Milligan: In order [for nurse practitioners and advanced practice providers to work at the highest level], I believe the community needs to be educated on our role and how important our patients are to us. Nurse practitioners were nurses first, and the care we provide just continues to grow.

Riggins: Right now, we’re overwhelmed because of the nurse-to-patient ratio. So, I’m hoping that in the future, they find a way to balance it. You work 12 hour shifts then go home and sleep your whole day off because you’re so tired, and then you turn around and do it all over again. I think there’s no balance right now in the nurse-to-patient ratio, and I hope they can mediate somewhere to do better with that because people don’t pursue nursing because they think it’s too hard. And it is but, you know, we still need nurses.

Santos: My biggest hope for the future of nursing is to see more nurses at the tables where decisions are being made. What better way to drive outcomes than to seek input and guidance from the ones who are in the driver’s seat?

IBX: What causes are you passionate about outside of nursing?

Milligan: Two things come to mind when I am asked this question. First, I am a parent with a child who has a rare metabolic disorder. Providing education to other medical professionals and my community about these rare disorders is important to me.

Second, mental health. I believe there is not enough support for this population. So many young children, teens, and adults suffer from a mental health disorder, and there are not enough mental health providers out there to support them. I have taken on a role in my profession to try do so and keep a close eye on my mental health patients because they deserve to feel they matter.

Riggins: What’s funny is I work this job, and I also have a job at a mental health facility on the weekends, and I’m also in school, so that takes up all of my time. I’m in school to be a nurse practitioner, and I only have two more months left.

But, I am really big on bringing people to God because I feel like the world is lost right now. And they need some hope, so there is always hope in Jesus.

Santos: I am most passionate about bridging the gap between humans and the resources they need to help them go from surviving to thriving. Some of our biggest societal challenges — food insecurity, homelessness, and substance use — are not wholly about lack of resources, but lack of access. My goal is to be a human compass for other humans, so they can access the resources they need.

Veronica Serrano

Mother. Wife. TV junkie. Shopaholic. That’s me in a nutshell – outside of work. As a copywriter at IBX, I enjoy learning about the health and wellness topics that I write about and hope to incorporate more healthy habits into my daily life to give me the energy to keep up with my baby girl.