Holly Leonard, RN: A McLean Homecoming

May 10, 2022

Holly Leonard, RN, nurse director for McLean Hospital’s Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Inpatient Program, knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a nurse. And from early in her nursing career, she knew working in mental health was her passion.

“My mother is actually a labor and delivery nurse,” Leonard said. “She would always share stories about her experiences being an RN, and I have always wanted to and enjoyed helping others, so it kind of fell into place.

“When I first went to college, I went to Stonehill College and majored in biology,” she continued. “While it was a good experience, I made the decision to pursue nursing in my sophomore year and transferred to UMass Amherst, because Stonehill didn’t have a nursing program.”

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Leonard played rugby in addition to attending to her studies. She started her journey into the field of nursing, which she described as “an absolutely amazing experience.”

“When I had my psychiatric clinical rotation, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my career to mental health,” she said.

After receiving her RN degree, pursued her dream of providing care in a mental health setting. Her second job out of nursing school was at McLean—working as a staff nurse on the Short Term Unit (STU).

“When I moved back to eastern Massachusetts, McLean was the first place I looked to join, because of its reputation,” said Leonard.

And the professional development opportunities were excellent, she said. A couple of years after joining the STU, its clinical coordinator departed, and Leonard trained to fill the role.

“I learned so much as a clinical coordinator here,” said Leonard. “The clinical coordinators at McLean have a lot of autonomy and opportunities to lead, everything from making schedules to participating in the clinical rounds.”

Holly Leonard, RN
Holly Leonard, RN

After some time in the clinical coordinator position, Leonard took on occasional per-diem work at a nearby behavioral health hospital. She was soon asked to apply for the position of nurse manager at the facility.

“For my career trajectory, it was great,” she said.

Leonard spent the next decade working in a variety of behavioral health settings across Massachusetts. But she never forgot how much she enjoyed the work and mission at McLean.

“Inpatient psych has always been my passion,” Leonard said. “My long-term goal was to come back to McLean as a nurse leader. Ultimately, I became nurse director for the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Inpatient Program, and I’m really enjoying it.”

“There’s a bit of a running joke around here that says everyone comes back to ‘Mother McLean,’” Leonard said. “And it’s true. Here I am.”

Her role at the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Inpatient Program has also reunited Leonard with Michael B. Leslie, MD, who is the program’s medical director, and with whom Leonard worked on the STU during her first stint at McLean.

“I find him to be so supportive and responsive,” she said. “And everyone has been so incredibly kind. A lot of times when you come into a new role, you’re basically told, ‘Here you go—Good luck.’ It’s a really nice experience to have so much support, from the unit, from the institution. It’s been completely remarkable.”

Leonard’s new position also gave her a frontline perspective on McLean’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been favorably impressed with how everyone at McLean—from caregivers to administrators and infection control—stepped up to promote the health and well-being of patients, families, and the entire hospital community.

“I hope we are coming out of COVID. It’s been tremendously challenging across the board, and the resilience that I’ve seen has been remarkable,” she said. “As far as McLean goes, things like being able to organize fit-testing for the entire organization was tremendous.”

“There’s a bit of a running joke around here that says everyone comes back to ‘Mother McLean.’ And it’s true. Here I am.”

“We preach a lot of self-care around here,” she continued. “And we brainstorm about things like how to address stress. Do you need a mental health day, for example? Work-life balance is important.”

Speaking of work-life balance, when she’s not on the job, Leonard is pursuing her master’s degree in nursing (MSN) at Walden University, and likes to hike, travel—especially to places with palm trees and beaches—play with the two family boxers, and cut loose on her drum set.

“I just play for fun,” she said, laughing. “I was in marching band as a kid, until I realized it wasn’t cool.”

Leonard and her fiancée, Danae Young, are also planning a wedding for the fall of 2023.

Back at work, Leonard points to the array of outstanding and exciting treatment options, as well as the many educational and research opportunities, as some of McLean’s highlights. But it’s the employees and staff at the hospital, Leonard said, that make the biggest positive impact.

“The best thing about being back is the caliber of staff members you get to work with,” she said. “The mental health specialists are all in master’s or PhD programs. The pharmacists join us for treatment team meetings. Everyone at McLean is here because they’re really dedicated to the field, and to the patients. And that dedication can be felt at every level.”

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