Helen Birkbeck, APRN
2013 APNA Award for Distinguished Service

“I like a challenge,” says this year’s recipient of the APNA Award for Distinguished Service and she fills her time with many of them! Helen Birkbeck, of Connecticut, has resuscitated a struggling chapter in just six months, served in every position on her Chapter’s board, helped to establish a scholarship fund, and faithfully attended chapter and national APNA Annual Conferences for years. As an APRN, she works in the Connecticut Department of Corrections during the week and on the weekends works as a visiting nurse with chronically mentally ill clients in her community.

Birkbeck sees psychiatric-mental health nursing as “the best of both worlds…mental health AND nursing.” She credits her clinical instructor during her psych rotation in nursing school for getting her into the profession. “I was intrigued that there was such a thing as a ‘nurse therapist,’” she remembers. “I had never heard of such a thing!” As for her current employment, we return Birkbeck’s love of a challenge: “My work in the Department of Corrections provides me with an opportunity to provide mental health services to a challenging population with limited resources,” she says. “It forces me to think outside the box and look at other treatment options.” On top of her main job,  her work in the community on weekends, and her efforts with APNA, Birkbeck has just taken on a new challenge: pursuing an MBA.

Birkbeck is currently the APNA New England Chapter’s Immediate Past President and Connecticut State Representative as well as a member of the APNA Forensic Psychiatric Nurses Council Steering Committee. “I joined APNA after my first conference, which was held in New Orleans,” says Birkbeck. “I met psych nurses from all over the country…what a wonderful experience!” It was while at this conference that she also met the members of the New England Chapter Board of Directors. “I immediately became involved in the chapter,” she remembers. Birkbeck values the education and outreach opportunities that APNA provides: “The state conference offers me an opportunity for outreach to other members in the New England area,” she explains, “as does the APNA Mentor Match program, which I am proudly a part of.”

In 2011, the APNA New England Chapter  was on the verge of becoming inactive – the chapter was losing board members and having trouble finding new members to fill the vacant positions. Luckily for the chapter, they had Birkbeck on their team. She stepped in to serve as Acting President. “In just six months under her leadership our chapter was revitalized!” says Nominator Karen Chesley. Birkbeck led a recruitment effort which brought the Board from “a few tired members,” as described by Chesley, to “fifteen enthusiastic members with lots of ideas.” The chapter resurrected its newsletter, established the Tom Marland Scholarship Fund and awarded it to a nursing student, and planned and held a state conference. Challenge beat, Birkbeck for the win!