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Finding Balance as a New Psychiatric Nurse

Getting Real: Nursing Today
August 25, 2016
Finding Balance as a New Psychiatric Nurse

Transitioning from being a student to practicing as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse (PMHN) is a big step. We sat down with Valeria Dworkowitz, DNP, RN, PMHNP-BC, a psychiatric nurse in Old Bridge, N.J., who practices at an outpatient setting that offers programs for adolescents and adults. We learned more about her first year as an independent Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), and she shared advice for students considering a specialty in psychiatric nursing.

NN: Why did you decide to pursue psychiatric nursing?

Valeria: I always had the intention of pursuing an advanced degree in nursing; my interest in psychology and self-help guided me to choose this specialty.

NN: When you first started practicing, did you feel prepared to begin to care for patients?

Valeria: I think that on your first day on the job as an APN, and for many days after that point, you realize that despite thorough preparation, there is a large learning curve both personally and professionally. With time, having support from my collaborating physician and being part of different organizations and forums really helped me.

NN: What are the three most important things that you’ve learned in your first year as a nurse?

Valeria: In my year as an APN, I’ve realized the value of communication because it fosters understanding, decreases error and promotes trust and confidence.

Additionally, I’ve learned to actively listen to patients, which means listening with purpose and asking more questions to illicit information so that they will be best served.

And finally, I’ve recognized the importance of self-care. We tell our patients about it and yet we as the practitioners do not always practice it ourselves. Taking time off to do things that you enjoy and making time for relaxation is so important, especially when working in the mental health setting.

NN: What do you think students need to know about psychiatric nursing?

Valeria: I believe students need to understand that mental illness is as important and deserving of attention as medical illness. I would also like students to see the universality of mental health:  we all struggle with different issues within this realm and that means we all have something in common.

NN: What was the most useful advice you received when beginning your career?

Valeria: The most useful advice I received when beginning my career was to always ask questions and to reach out when I need assistance.

NN: Who is your nurse mentor, and why is it so important to identify a mentor to help guide you in your first years as a nurse?

Valeria: My nurse mentors are comprised of professors from graduate school and other nurses and APN colleagues. It is really important to have mentors along the way as a new nurse because it is not realistic to believe you can figure everything out on your own. Something that stuck with me from school is that when you stop asking questions, you should be concerned about how you are practicing.

NN: Psychiatric nursing can be emotionally demanding. How do you maintain a positive perspective?

Valeria: As I mentioned before, self-care is really important in this field. In addition, having the support of a team at your workplace is essential because you need a multidisciplinary team to provide the best patient care. And, laughter is really important.

NN: How do you “keep learning” as a nurse, now that you are no longer a student?

Valeria: Attending conferences and lectures (both in-person and online for CE credits), joining online websites to obtain email updates, subscribing to different journals and being part of a supervision group are all ways that help me stay current in the field. I believe continuing education helps you feel as confident as you can that you are providing the best quality care to patients because you are up to date with research.

NN: Anything else you’d like to add about psychiatric nursing?

Valeria: Working within psychiatry has changed me as a person. It has made me a kinder, more intuitive and more spiritual person. I feel that combining the world of nursing with the world of psychiatry provides the patient with a very unique experience and allows for change and growth to occur in both individuals.

To learn more about psychiatric nursing, visit

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