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Working as a mental health specialist (MHS) at McLean inspired and supported Molly Jepsen as she planned her career path. In fact, serving as an MHS has also clarified work choices for many of her colleagues. Some decide to attend nursing or medical school, while others train for social work or counseling. “Being an MHS at McLean is a great experience. It means being immersed in the milieu and learning to recognize changes in a patient’s status,” she said recently. “I also learned to communicate with patients, which is something I didn’t know how to do before I began at McLean. An MHS learns to understand the nursing process.”
Molly did not arrive at her present role as a certified psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner along a traditional route. After graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont with a major in psychology, she worked in Gulf Coast communities and taught English in Uruguay for several years. Her experiences in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she assisted individuals who had experienced the trauma and loss of Hurricane Katrina, confirmed her desire to work in the field of psychology. At that point, though, she was not sure whether she wanted to do social work or nursing. Having grown up in the Boston area, she knew of McLean Hospital and decided to seek employment there as she considered her next steps.
As an MHS on the Short Term Unit (STU), Molly was usually assigned to check in with four patients to assess their safety status, thought process, current stressors, physical complaints, and energy level, and to report her findings to the RN. Different days and shifts bring their own challenges, but she understood that patient safety is always the top priority for an MHS, who is often the first to respond to a crisis. She also ran groups that promoted goal-setting, social interaction, or fitness.
“We’re always out on the floor,” she said. The interdisciplinary aspects of working with psychiatrists, social workers, expressive therapists, and charge nurses appealed to her, and she thinks that experience as an MHS is excellent preparation for becoming a registered nurse. As she worked with the nursing staff and sat in on morning report, she realized that she wanted to become a nurse practitioner in the mental health field. She worked full-time on the STU while she took pre-requisites for nursing school. When she began attending the MGH Institute of Health Professions, a Partners-affiliated graduate school, to earn her bachelor’s in nursing (BSN), she continued working on the STU on a per diem basis. After she passed her nursing board exams, she joined the staff on the STU as a registered nurse.
Her time as an MHS also convinced her that she wanted to become a prescriber. “I saw how psychiatric medications could help patients, so I wanted to learn to prescribe.” She continued taking classes, and in May 2013 she completed requirements for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, with a focus on psychiatric/mental health nursing across the lifespan, which means that she is qualified to treat children, adults, and geriatric adults. In June, she passed the board exams and is now a certified psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner.
The MHS position provides a rich work experience in the milieu and gives the specialist close contact with both patients and the nursing staff. Molly Jepsen’s journey illustrates that working as an MHS can be a fulfilling experience that may also guide an individual toward other careers in the psychiatric/mental health field.