Major: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Where are you currently working?
I currently work for PSI-MED Corrections, LLC as a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The company provides mental health/psychiatric services for the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation including adult, juvenile and parole services.
Did you always want to pursue a career in nursing, particularly in your current field? How did your passion develop?
As a nursing student, I completed my psychiatry rotation at Girard Medical Center’s Inpatient Psychiatric Unit. I was a young, naïve nursing student thrilled to learn.My days at the hospital included being tasked with completion of morning vitals, assessment, and anything else my preceptors may have needed. I was asked to sit among the residents of the group, listening and observing their interactions.I learned of people’s hardships with their mental illness. The repeated role of childhood trauma and its long-lasting effects in people’s life’s. I was given the privilege and opportunity to provide a listening ear and offer a spark of hope. This experience, as brief as it was, allowed me to find my passion and niche in health care. I realized how impactful our words can be, particularly when you don’t know what others may be going through at the time of your interactions.
After working as a psychiatric nurse for a few years, I decided to pursue my nurse practitioner degree at Penn, specializing in psychiatric mental health.
What is the most satisfying part of your work?
In my role, I help to deliver direct mental health services at our state’s jails and prisons. In this line of work, I have seen how mental health clinicians from all realms of training can directly impact incarcerated individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Despite the many stereotypes that surround incarcerated individuals, I’ve found that many inmates are appreciative of your time, even if it means sitting down for a few minutes to discuss the power of hope in recovery or rehabilitation.
How did Penn Nursing help you achieve your personal and professional goals? What is next for you?
Penn Nursing offered an environment suited for personal and professional growth. As a student and (later) clinical faculty, I was privileged to be taught by some of our nation’s top experts in the field of nursing and psychiatry. The curriculum at Penn is developed for individuals who are motivated to learn. The diverse faculty and small cohort environment allow the rare but extraordinary opportunity to make meaningful connections. Attending Penn was the single most influential academic decision I have ever made, which I truly believe helped open up many career opportunities thus far.
As far as my continued academic interests, I hope to one day return to an academic advisorship role alongside my current clinical work. My interest and passion of working within the grounds of our nations forensic system continues to spark my interest in policy and advocacy reform from a mental health and law perspective. I’m currently exploring doctoral degree programs that may integrate both of my interests.
Nearly every person in the field of nursing has had at least one or two A-ha moments that that changed the way they think about healthcare, nursing, or their career—or just generally had a massive impact on you. What are yours?
Hearing countless stories from patients who need to drive hours to be seen by their health care practitioner really hit home for me. The privilege and opportunity to gain your community’s trust is something I value each day. As I progress in my career, I continue to seek ways to improve my practice’s efficiency and productivity in an effort to reach our communities afar. The utilization of telemedicine services has been a great asset for expanding my services and staying connected with patients.
Working in rural America brings many challenges when it comes to health care. Unfortunately, the state of West Virginia continues to battle the detrimental effects of the opioid crisis. The residual impacts of this crisis are being felt by all generations in our communities, including our children. The stigma associated with mental health and addiction continues to be a barrier to treatment. In my current line of work, I hope to bring more access to evidence-based protocols to change the culture of how we view the role of mental health care in our correctional and rehabilitation systems.
What is something most people would find surprising about you?
Spanish is my first language. I was born and raised in Cochabamba, Bolivia before moving to the United States. Another fun fact: while I was in grad school at Penn Nursing, I drove five hours (one way) to see my girlfriend in West Virginia. As of today, we have been happily married for three years—the best and most worthwhile ride of my life!
What is one piece of advice you would offer to current Penn Nursing students or young alumni?
Matriculating and graduating from Penn is an immense accomplishment that one should not take for granted. As you grow personally and professionally, continue to stay curious, stay humble, and allow your talents to help those in need. Don’t feel failure. Learn from your mistakes. Abide by the three A’s of success as one of my mentors once said: Availability, Affability, and Ability.