A psychiatric APRN and nurse educator, Edward A. Herzog, MSN, RN, APRN, reflects on the choices he has made in his professional journey and explains how his greatest teachers have been patients.
I am a psychiatric APRN and now a nurse educator. I chose teaching when I perceived a great need to help improve the practice of psychiatric nursing. Previously I had focused on influencing practicing nurses as a clinical role model and presenter, but I decided I would have more impact by influencing developing nurses—the next generation.
Although I earned an MSN in psychiatric nursing, I really became the nurse I am by learning from my best teachers: Patients. I always emphasize the importance of engaging actively with those for whom I care--caring for the whole person, not simply completing a series of tasks. I assure that I spend most of my time out of the station, interacting directly and meaningfully, and relating to my patients first as people, not disorders. This began accidentally in my first role when I found myself working as the only evening RN on a busy, hi-acuity psychiatric unit at St. Luke’s Hospital. At that time I did not have the option of camping out in the station, but was always moving, interacting with the 23 people in my care. With limited access to nurse mentors, I learned instead from my patients--and what great teachers they were.
I did learn essential skills from my many nurse mentors, however, my patients taught me what the lived experience of mental illness is like, what helps and doesn’t help, and the critical importance of a trusting relationship, empathy and compassion. I have found engaging actively and directly with those who live with mental illness to be the best way to become an excellent psychiatric nurse, and the best way to help people recover and cope.
While I now teach skills such as therapeutic communication, I emphasize that direct engagement is the primary way to help others. I share 44 years of clinical experience through anecdotes, role-plays, and role modeling in clinical. In addition to conveying what nursing practice and research have established as effective, I share what my patients and experience have taught me. Working directly with patients and students in clinical brings me joy and energizes me, as does seeing students begin to understand and appreciate the impact of mental illness.
Nursing to me, as a clinician and educator, has been far more than simply a career: It has been a great gift. I cannot imagine a way in which I might have been more blessed.