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Nurses Drawn to Healing Mind and Body
Psychiatric care a fast-growing, rewarding specialty
When Colonel Susan Luz retired from the U.S. Army in 2010, she was the highest-ranking officer at the 399th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq. She left her unit with a Bronze Star and a desire to continue a life of public service.
Today the former combat stress nurse, a clinical nurse specialist, works at The Bradley Center, a residential treatment program for teens with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Like Luz, thousands of men and women have chosen psychiatric nursing to fulfill their professional and personal goals. It’s an ever-growing specialty in health care, expected to increase 26 percent by 2020, faster than the medical community’s average growth rate, according to NurseJournal.org.
“If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life,” says Luz, quoting the adage. She says she feels it is important to treat both body and mind.
Personal experience guides Bradley nurse's career path
The first job Christina Marchand landed after graduating from nursing at the Community College of Rhode Island was at Bradley Hospital’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD). She had wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse when she first considered the career, but the birth of her second child just before starting nursing school changed her path.
Her son, Jackson, now 13, was born with a very rare genetic condition called Bohring-Opitz Syndrome, requiring extensive in-home medical care – something Marchand says equips her to care for patients in CADD.
“My experience being a mom to (Jackson) has enabled me to do this job,” says Marchand, who also has an 18-year-old daughter, Sydney. “It’s given me perspective. I have tremendous respect for our (patients’) parents, what they’re going through and how difficult it is to live everyday life. I think this is where I was meant to be – with these kids.”
For almost 10 years, Marchand has been caring for CADD patients with both psychiatric disorders and developmental disabilities. Marchand says the job requires problem solving, collaboration and communication with treatment teams to assess treatment and behavioral plans, as well as medications.
“You definitely need to be someone who can think outside the box and troubleshoot at all times,” she says.
Marchand says that she’s encouraged to see an increased focus on and awareness of mental health.
“You don’t know the life story of the person next to you,” she adds. “I think a lot of patience and kindness is important to everyone, not just in nursing, and hopefully we’ll see that more and more.”
Daune Lyman, R.N., a psychiatric nurse who oversees Newport Hospital’s inpatient behavioral health unit and partial hospital program, says nurses who are drawn to psychiatric care typically enjoy interpersonal relationships and are challenged by the complexity of behavioral health.
“If someone is looking for a very technical job, it’s not that. It’s a very hands-on, personal, communicative kind of job geared to helping others with emotional suffering,” says Lyman.
Luz agrees. During her 46-year career, she has worked with patients who have a wide array of conditions – from post-traumatic stress disorder to postpartum depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder – but there’s always a common thread to treatment that goes beyond clinical knowledge and skills.
“When some of the adolescent boys and girls left and they know we really cared about them, they would give us a hug and say, ‘You really helped me.’”
Luz’s colleague at The Bradley Center, Dayna Canzone, R.N., who joined the team a year ago, says the work has been life-changing.
“These teens have taught me more about myself and life in general than I could have ever imagined, and I would not trade that for anything,” she says.
Lyman, manager of behavioral health at Newport Hospital, says many nurses, including herself, thrive on the work because of the constant challenge to understand each patient’s unique and often complex needs.
“You have to see the bigger picture – the whole patient – their family, their environment, cultural factors – not just the diagnosis,” says Karen Fullerton, a Rhode Island Hospital psychiatric clinical nurse specialist.
“You have to be tolerant and understand it’s the illness, not the person. You’d be surprised at how sweet a patient is once you get talking to him or her,” she explains. Lyman, also a former army nurse, adds that after years of conducting patient assessments and teaching empowerment through multi-disciplinary group therapy, she has found that what’s not said by the patient can often provide the most important insight.
Of course, being a psychiatric nurse is not without its challenges, both physical and emotional.
“It is a difficult job. Sometimes it can be very depressing,” says Karen Fullerton, a Rhode Island Hospital psychiatric clinical nurse specialist (PCNS), who works with the hospital’s psychiatric emergency service. “You’re seeing people at their worst, so you have to try to have some perspective.”
She says it’s important to maintain balance, patience, and sometimes even humor as a way to help decompress and avoid burnout.
“You have to see the bigger picture – the whole patient – their family, their environment, cultural factors – not just the diagnosis.”