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“I knew right from the beginning I wanted to be in psychiatry,” said Kristen Lancaster, RN. “I’ve been in the mental health field ever since.”
Lancaster, the nurse manager for the McLean SouthEast Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment (ART) Program, has dedicated her career to helping teens and adolescents. She started her nursing career in 1997 at Taunton State Hospital’s Adolescent Family Treatment Program before advancing to become the hospital’s assistant director of nursing in 2000 and director of nursing in 2001.
In these roles, Lancaster divides her time between working directly with patients (“blood draws, school nurse kind of stuff”) and managing a staff of 33 community residence counselors.
“I started off as a brand-new nurse, and over the years I developed a lot of skills and confidence,” she said. “I now lead a group of staff and run a leadership training. It just took years of practice and confidence to be able to do it effectively.”
Lancaster said she loves the balance of her dual roles as direct care nurse and manager. “No two days are ever the same,” she said. “It never gets stale.”
As much as her job brings her joy, Lancaster said challenges also come with the territory. Even though the work is not physically demanding, it can be mentally exhausting.
“These kids have been through a lot of traumas and a lot of sad situations, and sometimes you have to be really good at trying to leave that stuff at the door,” she said. “It’s tough when you deal with the parents who are struggling, and you’re dealing with the kids who are struggling. It makes you want to go home and hug your kids.”
She makes a point of talking to staff about how to separate their professional and personal lives.
“Self-care is hugely important in this field, so I encourage people to take their time off, and once they go home, go home. The work will be here tomorrow.”
When Lancaster isn’t working, she attends Red Sox games and spends time with her two athletic teens and her two rescue dogs. Since 2015, she has run the annual “Prize-a-Palooza” for Fairhaven’s Standard Times’ Neediest Families Fund. Throughout the year, she solicits donations and organizes volunteers for the December event, which brought in over $33,000 in 2019. Funds go toward the Salvation Army and a meal voucher, toys, and winter coats for two local families for the holidays.
Lancaster said she enjoys working with young people. “They are always changing,” she said. “You can reach them at a point where they can change. They are all so different. They all have different needs, but I think, bottom line, they just want someone to listen to them and understand what they’re going through.”
She added, “Kids sometimes get shut down really quickly. They’re often given the message ‘Your opinion doesn’t matter.’ If you give them a chance to have a voice and express themselves, then that’s how you establish rapport, and that’s what it’s all about.”