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Get to Know Susan Vebber, BSN, RN, PMH, family psychiatric nurse practitioner at Carolina Behavioral Care in Durham, N.C.

April 2014

Vebber is an active member of the International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses (ISPN), and she is currently serving a second term as Chair of the Council of Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurses in Advanced Practice for the North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA). She is also an active member of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Q. When did you decide to pursue a career in mental health nursing and why?

A. I received introductory psychiatric mental health training at the University of South Carolina College of Nursing but originally chose pediatrics for my specialty. One summer during graduate school, I moved to Boston for a summer internship at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children, and the only position available at the time was the new inpatient pediatric/adolescent mental health unit. I loved it from day one! I had a wonderful nursing mentor who introduced me to the content and passionately taught me about child and adolescent mental health.

The experience was collaborative, challenging and life-changing. I had many more experiences in nursing after that summer, but I always remembered my experience there and eventually returned to an adolescent unit at our state hospital. From there, I went back to school for my master’s degree to become a family psychiatric nurse practitioner. I now provide outpatient care to children, adolescents and adults. It is truly a dream come true.

Q. What was one of the greatest moments of your career?

A. When I initially thought about this question, many patients came to mind, as I could not single out just one. However, the more I thought about it, I finally realized that the greatest moment was the day I completed my oral comps for my degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I walked out of the building with a feeling of joy and accomplishment. It was where it became “real to me” – I knew I was going to be a family psychiatric nurse practitioner! The role encompasses all I have worked toward in my life. I have been honored to be included in some of the most intimate struggles of people’s lives, and have been grateful to be able to lend support and care. 

Q. What are some of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of working as a mental health nurse?

A. The most rewarding aspect is simple – you receive much more than you give. I am told daily from my patients that the way I provide mental health care is unique from their past experiences, and they are grateful for my approach. The nursing methodology and training includes prevention, the disease of body and mind, psychopharmacology and psychotherapy. I am grateful for the strong leaders and teachers in mental health nursing who have gone before me so that others receive care in this holistic way.

The most challenging aspect to me is the pervasive stigma attached to mental illness. Patients often feel shame when seeking mental health care. With newer delivery models of integrated care on the horizon moving towards wellness and prevention, we as nurses are poised to be an integral part of providing holistic care. This is an exciting time in our history to help navigate that change.

Q. Why do you think the role of nurses is important for psychiatric care?

A. The foundation of nursing practice is the therapeutic relationship between the patient and the nurse. The first nurse to emphasize this psychodynamic relationship was the “mother” of the advanced psychiatric nursing role, Hildegard Peplau. She changed the way that nurses practice by creating an interpersonal theory that states “nurses will help patients identify their needs and collaborate in their care” – this includes physical and mental health care. She revolutionized the science of the relationship, which has been important not only to psychiatric nurses but to all nurses. To me, the two are seamless. 

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