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Psych Nursing Isn't Scary...Or Is It?

I knew going into nursing school that I wanted to be a psych nurse. The goal upon starting my 2 year program was to continue schooling until I obtained my Doctorate in Nursing, with a psychiatric/mental health certification. Most nursing students do not enter school with the same ambitions.


At a continuing education conference, the speaker (a licensed therapist and pharmacist in a state with prescribing privileges) told a story of a talk he delivers to first year medical students in a pharmacology course. He described asking the students, “Who wants to be a rainbow unicorn…sought after for miles and miles…where people from all over the Earth come to see you?” --indicating at this point the students are on the edges of their seats--and then he hits them with, “become a psychiatrist.” He next asks the students, “Who wants to be a double rainbow unicorn…sought after for miles and miles…where people from all over the Earth come to see you? Become a child psychiatrist.” He indicated that the majority of students groaned in displeasure and sank back in their seats. In my humble opinion, all work in the medical field is tough, but it takes a special person to want to work in psych.


I sometimes joke that my best nursing skills are administering intramuscular injections or removing sutures, a far cry from starting IVs and titrating drips on multiple medications in the ICU, but in all reality, psych nursing takes a different kind of skill. All nurses work on developing a bedside manner that fits their work area, but in psych, the art of talking to your patients makes all the difference. Having the skill to support a highly anxious patient having a panic attack or verbally de-escalate an agitated individual is not something everyone is comfortable with or desires to do on a daily basis.


However, to me, psych nursing isn’t scary. Part of my passion involves educating others-nursing students, new nurses, and the public-on the great rewards of being a psych nurse. Sure, working on an acute crisis inpatient unit comes with its own set of challenges, but the scariest part of the job in my mind is caring too much. When you watch kids grow up with admissions throughout the years, the lines between personal and professional can start to blur for some. When you have a long stay patient, it can be hard to not think of how they are doing after they discharge. But the art of caring is what brings me the most joy. Having a front row seat to the growth and development of the children/adolescents served on the unit is incredible. Contributing to their confidence in using skills and navigating the world after discharge brings a sense of pride in one’s ability to positively influence someone else’s life.


Mental illness isn’t going away any time soon, and the world needs far more folks who want to work in psych. If you’re not looking for a job or a new career path, you can still “work” in psych by helping to stop the stigma. It’s ok to not be ok and showing compassion to those who are struggling and reaching out for help should be the answer, not being judgmental or disapproving. If you are looking for a job or a new career path, take my word for it—psych nursing isn’t scary.

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