Penn Nursing grad Jay Roth is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with MedOptions Behavioral Health. He is also a well-regarded photographer in Philadelphia who explores trauma and vulnerability in his work as an artist. “The complexity of the things I look at in photography mirror the complexity of the patients I see,” he says.

Jay’s photography was most recently on display at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia. He notes, “I use art and photography to give people an opportunity to talk about their lives and experiences. You might see someone in your practice, and you often don’t know their full story—or about how systemic inequalities, things like poverty, shape their lives. Art can help you understand someone’s personal narrative, their full story, and it can be healing.”

While Jay does not currently use art with his patients in his current practice, it is something he thinks about often. “Photography helps me to express what I’m feeling and to process my emotions—which is part of my self-care. As I grow as a nurse and a photographer, I would like to bridge the gap between the two fields, perhaps trying to help healthcare providers use art to understand complex personal issues with their patients.”

Being an innovator, especially in the field of nursing, was not ever something Jay foresaw for himself. When he was first thinking about what he might want to do with his life, he thought he would engage in humanitarian work after graduating from University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in Development Studies. “I realized then that nursing would be a sought-after skill to have if I entered that field,” Jay says.

He entered Penn Nursing’s BSN program with that in mind. “But I didn’t decide to focus on psychiatric nursing until I was working on an internal medicine floor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I realized that a lot of patients I was seeing had a number of mental health issues—like depression or addiction—that led to medical problems like obesity, renal failure, liver failure, and so forth. I began to think that one way to address these problems was by treating mental health, which seemed to be at the root of their medical issues.”

As a graduate of Penn Nursing’s MSN Family Psychiatric NP program with a Master Psychopharmacology Certificate from the Neuroscience Education Institute, Jay understands that his work is critical for overall good health—and for being an advocate for change in his field: “There are a lot of deficiencies in mental healthcare, and only a fraction of the people who need it will ever receive it. There is a lot of good research out there showing what actually works, like cognitive behavior therapy, medication management, and mindfulness—we know these things work. The downside is that even in the current healthcare system, where there is technically mental health parity, it can still be a huge challenge to get the care that you need. There aren’t enough services or providers available, among other issues.”

He continues:

“If I could pass one piece of legislation, it would be Medicare for All. It won’t fix all of these problems, but just knowing that you have decent health coverage reduces stress—a lot of people don’t know that medical expenses are the number one cause of people going bankrupt. It reduces stress knowing that you won’t go bankrupt getting the care that you need.”

Jay’s goals to bridge the gap between nursing and photography, along with his vision of a transformed insurance industry, are driving him forward—but so, too, is his original vision for himself doing humanitarian work, something he still hopes to include in his life. His Penn Nursing education has prepared him to tackle anything that may lie in his future.

Random fact: Jay credits his training as a nurse with helping to care for his and his wife’s four-year-old hound dog Alan, who was diagnosed with a Lupus-like syndrome at 18 months. “There was a time when Alan was gravely ill, and I was caring for him much like a medical nurse cares for a patient, catheter and all.” Jay reports that Alan is much better now with a daily dose of mycophenalate and prednisone. “We even did a local Lupus walk a few years ago to help raise money for research. I’m pretty sure he was the only dog there.”

Photo credit: Brent Reaney