While first-year nursing student Laura Nelson will likely become a nurse practitioner specializing in adult gerontology, she will take the tools and knowledge from her psychiatry rotation at McLean with her, no matter where she lands in her career.
“If you care for a patient’s medical needs, it’s important to be aware of what a major disruption mental illness can cause in a person’s brain,” says Nelson, a student at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. “You also need to be able to distinguish, for example, between a psychotic episode and delirium from an infection or massive blood loss.”
Nelson is one of between 80 and 100 nursing students from area colleges who come to McLean every year for one semester of clinical experience. The rotations are an important component of the hospital’s mission to educate clinicians, according to Linda Flaherty, RN/PC, senior vice president for Patient Care Services. Students seek out McLean from Boston College, Curry College, Massasoit Community College, Northeastern University, Regis College, and the four schools in the University of Massachusetts system—Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, and UMass Medical School.
Nelson says the rotations have provided a fascinating window into the world of psychiatric nursing and a great opportunity to interact with patients. During their shifts, she and fellow nursing students are assigned a patient chart to review so they can familiarize themselves with the person’s history, diagnosis, medications, symptoms, and other relevant facts. They then spend time talking to the patient and comparing their observations with the record.
“You read about someone and their illness, but to see the effects of the disease is very different,” says Nelson. “It solidifies your understanding and helps foster empathy for what a person is going through.”
Students spend one day a week on their rotations, shadowing nurses, attending lectures, and running groups on such topics as nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction. They tour programs in the hospital, including the Clinical Evaluation Center, where patients in acute psychiatric crisis are evaluated and stabilized before being triaged to the appropriate units.
According to Flaherty, the students are as good for McLean as McLean is for the students. “They keep our staff fresh and engaged. They ask good questions and are a lively addition to the work group by virtue of those questions and their enthusiasm. They provide an opportunity for our nurse directors to showcase their teaching talent,” she says. Another key benefit of hosting clinical rotations is recruitment. “Each year we get at least one student who eventually becomes a member of the nursing staff,” Flaherty notes.