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2021 APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN

Barbara (Bambi) Carkey, DNP, PMHNP-BC, NPP

A common thread has weaved its way throughout Dr. Barbara (Bambi) Carkey’s distinguished career – passionate efforts that lead the way to expanding access to psychiatric services and ensuring that mental health providers implement collaborative care strategies to improve outcomes for patients.

In reflecting on the start of her career, Bambi shares the spark that ignited her passion for mental health care, “Growing up, a couple of my mother’s friends were psych nurses. One had been a psych nurse in a MASH unit in the Korean War and one had been a psych nurse in the RAF in Britain. My older brother had what we now would describe as an acute stress reaction. We lived in rural, northern New York and there were limited services around.”

She realizes now how fortunate the family was to have two psychiatric nurses who made themselves available while her parents struggled to find care for her brother in their medically underserved area. “I was always fascinated by and drawn to psychiatry and expanding access because in rural areas the lack of access can be just horrific.”

What Bambi remembers most about this experience is being her brother’s confidant. “It had such a huge impact on me—I think I was 13 at the time. My brother loved to joke that he was my first patient.”

This spark fueled Bambi’s dedication to efforts that address the social determinants of health, challenges with rural access and the integration of collaborative care, leveraging her positions in academia, private practice and efforts to publish and present on these topics to drive discussions and help lead the way forward.

In her role as Clinical Coordinator and Clinical Preceptor with the University of Buffalo, College of Nursing, Bambi was at the forefront of using distance learning techniques – back in 2005 to 2008 – to provide greater educational access to RNs in central and northern New York State who were seeking to become PMH APRNs.

Bambi says, “In the United States, we have rural pockets that greatly need increased access to mental health care and education. We all have to be willing to talk about it and bring it into the light.”

Inspiring students and colleagues alike, Bambi served as Assistant Professor with the SUNY Upstate Medical University (UMU) College of Nursing, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program, since its initiation in 2008, and later became the program’s Director, serving as preceptor to more than 25 PMHNP students during their clinical education experiences.

Bambi’s work literally transformed the UMU psychiatric NP program. She developed a wide variety of new courses – Motivational Interviewing, CBT/DBT, and Group Therapy – and expanded didactic instruction and clinical placement opportunities for students. During the past decade, Bambi forged pivotal new partnerships with mental health agencies while recruiting and training numerous psychiatrists and practicing PMHNPs to effectively serve as UMU preceptors to more than 150 PMHNP students.

As Program Director, Bambi continued to shine a bright light on the gaps in training and education afforded to advanced practice nurses in the more rural areas of New York State. Under her leadership, the UMU College of Nursing was awarded a $1.8 million HRSA Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Grant (BHWET) to expand financial and educational opportunities for students in underserved areas of central and northern New York. Over the past 7 4 years, this initiative doubled the number of UMU PMHNP graduates.

Bambi’s clear vision and leadership has both improved the quality of PMHNP education and directly increased the number high-quality providers delivering mental health services to rural and medically underserved NY communities.

As part of the BHWET grant program, Bambi and her colleagues also found themselves ahead of the curve in tele-psychiatry, sharing, “Our grant program has been providing students in rural and underserved areas with access to tele-psychiatry tools for years. When COVID hit, we were already prepared to maintain access for our patients and students. That’s been a huge silver lining – being able to feel confident in providing vital continuity of care.”

Today, Bambi is retired from UMU, working in private practice and continuing her important work on the BHWET grant program, serving as Grant Advisor, where she continues to collaborate with and advise students and faculty to ensure the PMHNP program meets the needs of the region.

She says, “Being a part of the grant team and helping to fund stipends for so many psychiatric NP’s at the Masters, post-Masters and Doctoral levels has been the highlight of my career. That’s really been a pinnacle for me. In this work and in my private practice, I really believe that I’ve been invited into people’s lives in an intimate way. I take that as a real sacred trust. That’s what really motivates me.”