Psychiatric nurses work closely with patients who have mental illnesses
and with the patients' families. Often, it is just as important to rehabilitate
the family, says Mary Ann Richoux. She is an RN (registered nurse) who became
interested in psychiatric nursing through her own family's problems with alcoholism.
Karen McSwain is an RPN (registered psychiatric nurse). She does a little
of everything, from initial assessments to counseling sessions and more. "I
administer medications and supervise the patient's response. I design and
run recreation programs, relaxation programs and therapeutic interventions,"
"I help a patient learn to cope with a panic disorder, schizophrenia, depression,
grief and mania. I work with illnesses of aging and can differentiate between
a dementia and a delirium," she adds. Last but not least, she says she can
manage an IV, dress wounds, cut toenails and wipe bottoms.
RPN Bob Davis describes psychiatric nursing as equals parts social work
or psychology and general nursing. "You get the best of both worlds." Many
RPNs will specialize in a population, such as adolescents. Davis helps those
with gambling addictions.
RPN Rudy Young works in community health. He says he had a keen interest
in human behavior from the get-go. "Skills needed are time management, time
management and time management," he says.
Problem solving under pressure, effective communication and the ability
to work as a team, as well as independently, also top his list.
Richoux says that more than any other specialty she has worked in, a psychiatric
nurse's input is valued. The nurse is a member of the health-care team, along
with the psychiatrist, social workers and therapists. For those getting into
the profession, she recommends a stress management course.
Psychiatric nurses mostly work shifts. You can choose eight-, 12- or 16-hour
shifts, says Richoux. Young works 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, which he
admits is unusual in the profession. "Health care is a 24-hour business."
RPNs work in a variety of places and develop different skills for each.
"In the hospital, you are on your own turf," says McSwain.
"In the community, you are in the client's world. In a hospital, you have
a great deal of power and resources at hand, while in the community [you]
use skills similar to social workers."
Psychiatric or general hospitals, community mental health centers, prisons,
halfway houses, nursing homes, addiction centers, and private offices are
examples of work settings.
As for danger, McSwain says, "It is more dangerous than selling shoes but
less dangerous than being a firefighter. It depends on where you work."
Psychiatric nurses should know how to defuse violent situations, defend
themselves and restrain a patient. Restraining patients can be physical work,
but a minority of RPNs actually do this, she says.
Young is completely satisfied with his profession, mostly because it involves
a constantly changing work environment and ongoing education. McSwain's satisfaction
comes from exposing others to mental health.
"In order to change the world's attitude, you must start with one person
at a time. Each person you affect will pass your message along."
Care for the mentally ill
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