Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners focus on the small wins

By: Henri Munoz
May 6, 2017
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Tenaea Jeppeson.(Photo: Special to The Register)

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Tenaea Jeppeson's job can be draining. 

The registered nurse and Allen College psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner, or PMHNP, student has spent her career working with child and adult patients with psychiatric and mental health disabilities. Right now, she's working with dementia patients part time at , an inpatient geriatric behavioral and mental health department.

"It can be really draining," Jeppeson said. "Patients can be aggressive, and different behaviors related to the diseases can make it ... a difficult week to get through. But l look for small wins, and it’s worth it." 

Jeppeson, 28,  says that even though working with mental health care patients can be a challenge, any time patients have a moment of clarity or she sees their lives improve thanks to her care, she remembers why she loves being a nurse. 

When Jeppeson — who has been recognized with education award — receives her degree in May of 2018, she'll start work as a PMHNP. With that title, she'll be able to diagnose and prescribe medicine to patients — tasks that other RNs aren't authorized to complete. 

And as Jeppeson pursues a career in mental health care, a facet of health care in which nurses are  she'll be filling an important health care access gap for rural Iowans in the Storm Lake area. 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there's  — particularly in rural areas. 

Nicole Beaman, the vice president of Orchard Place Child Guidance Center in Des Moines, has firsthand experience with this shortage. 

Though Orchard Place once had three PMHNPs, it now only has one — and she lives in Kentucky, video chatting with patients to prescribe medicine. 

"There's an extreme shortage of people in that profession," Beaman says. "But it’s a role we certainly would hire more of if we could .... If you're a nurse and you're interested in this field, we need anyone who can and wants to."

Beaman says a variety of factors have led to this shortage: Because there are fewer of these nurses and nurse practitioners, many of them are stretched very thin, working with many patients at one time. The hours can be long and unpredictable. 

And, Beaman says, It's easy to get burned out when working with patients, and it's possible to experience secondhand trauma from hearing patients' stories.

But despite these potential deterrents, both Beaman and Jeppeson say that finding more mental-health-focused nurses is crucial. 

Last month, the community of Bondurant was shaken after

Chase's cousin, Seth Nicholson, said that Chase had for most of his life. He is a former resident of Orchard Place.

Jeppeson says if there were more mental health nurses and PMHNPs around, tragedies like that could be avoided. 

"There's a social stigma against mental illness, even if it’s one of your family members," Jeppeson says. "Because of the stigma, if there was more mental health providers like psychiatric nurse practitioners or nurses, we could help provide more education to the community and have more awareness, which could lead to preventing those situations." 

The bottom line: More nurses and PMHNPs focused on mental health are needed.

Jeppeson said that, as those nurses pursue their careers, they should focus on the little wins. 

Just recently, Jeppeson said, she was working with a patient with dementia who seemed to be chronically confused.

 "But one day, she had this moment of clarity — those moments can last a couple of minutes to a half an hour — but during her moment of clarity, she was able to carry on a very logical conversation and was joking around," Jeppeson said. "The light was back in her eyes, and knowing I made her happy, even if it was just for that half-hour time period, that’s one of the small wins."

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