Carole Shea, APNA Award for Excellence in Education

Carole Shea, PhD, RN, FAAN
2014 Award for Excellence in Education


Carole Shea, recipient of the 2014 APNA Award for Excellence in Education has a message for all of you out there considering school: “As Mark Twain wrote, ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’ Get an education!”

Shea is adamant about the value of a nursing education. “Today we hear so much about the expense of a college education,” she says. “Yet, a good nursing education is truly priceless!  It is personally fulfilling and socially essential.” As for psychiatric-mental health nursing specifically, she says: “Psychiatric nursing is the ‘integrator’ for health among the human body, mind and spirit. The science is broad, encompassing laboratory bench work to 1:1 therapy, and every step in between. Many of today’s major illnesses and societal problems lend themselves to psychiatric nursing practice. Learning how to develop and sustain healthy interpersonal relationships is what psychiatric nursing is all about; it is the key to solving health problems and building a healthy society.”

On a more personal level, Shea sees her chosen profession as much more than ‘just a job’. "For me, psychiatric nursing is a way of life, a way of being in everyday life – at home, at work, when I’m out-and-about with family, friends, colleagues, even strangers,” she explains. “It informs how I relate and communicate with people.” And she tries to pass this approach on to her students. “I encourage students to set aside their preconceptions and to make psychiatric nursing their own ‘way of life’,” she says. “It’s a present that keeps on giving.”

In the summer of 2010 Shea retired as Director of the School of Nursing at California State University Dominguez Hills, but through a special faculty program and her title as Professor Emerita, she has still been able to teach nursing courses on a part-time basis. “I had occasionally taught a course or given a lecture while being an academic administrator,” says Shea, “but teaching two courses every semester in our online program was a new learning experience for me.  I had expertise in the subjects...but had very little practical knowledge of how to teach the courses online.”

Shea quickly overcame her apprehension of not having “face time” with students. “Learning to teach online gave me new insights into the role of faculty as distance educators – how attuned they have to be to the constant need for communication with students who may be across the country or even in a different country,” she says. “It became a pleasure to discover creative ways to use online technology, making the teaching-learning experience come alive.” She admires her students, as well. “These highly motivated and very bright students help me to keep current with the latest developments in clinical practice and research,” she says. 

Her membership in APNA has been “an integral part of my education as a psychiatric nurse,” Shea says. “I have sustained friendships with leaders and mentors in the field of psychiatric nursing which have enriched me personally and professionally.” As Co-Chair of the Education Council’s Graduate Education Branch, she works with “an energetic group” to develop projects such as faculty practice plans (on Member Bridge), APNA online continuing education, sessions at Annual Conferences, and an online survey to gauge the educational preparation and learning interests of APNA’s nurses. The growing group is “committed to enhancing the academic careers of faculty, the learning experience of graduate students, and the improvement of mental health services through evidence-based advanced psychiatric nursing practice.”

Following the Council’s Interactive Panel at this year’s Annual Conference, the group will feature the use of popular films to teach advanced psychiatric concepts and therapies, and hear some tips from JAPNA Editor Karen Stein on how to turn practice issues into clinical research projects – If you’ll be in Indianapolis, stop by to congratulate Shea in person!