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2021 APNA Psychiatric Nurse of the Year

Evelyn Parrish, PhD, PMHNP-BC, FAANP

Dr. Evelyn Parrish has spent her entire career advancing dual goals – working to increase access to mental health care in rural communities and challenging others to see the important role psychiatric-mental health (PMH) nurses play in delivering that high-quality care.

She explains this driving force, saying, “I am deeply passionate about helping others, providing quality care, providing the highest level of education, and reducing the negative stigma surrounding mental health treatment. I get to experience the best of both worlds by educating future PMH nurses while serving as a provider for some of the most vulnerable in our Eastern Kentucky community.”

It is through increased access to mental health education and treatment in underserved populations that we can help reduce stigma and improve overall health, mental health, and wellness.”

Evelyn’s important work plays out both within academia as Assistant Dean of Accreditation and Strategic Outcomes and Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, and outside academia, serving as a PMH-NP and Medical Director of Access Wellness Group in Lexington, KY. In both roles she works to develop empowering partnerships to deliver positive outcomes for her patients and students.

In clinical practice, Evelyn endeavors to expand access by delivering high quality, evidenced-based mental health care to patients in her community. Evelyn sees adolescents through older adults, working to establish partnerships to empower patients in their treatment. She shares, “When I first started in practice one of my mentors told me to listen to what your patients are telling you, they know what they need. Patients who are actively involved in their treatment have better outcomes.

In her academic work, she strives to educate future generations of advanced practice psychiatric nurses and help them understand their potential to help address the nation’s severe shortage of mental health providers in rural areas.

“The most rewarding aspect of teaching is when students make meaningful connections and can apply the content,” Evelyn says. “This is when I know that they will be able to care for their patients. I work to establish a collaborative partnership with my students on day one to empower them, and so they know I will mentor them through the program and well beyond. The education of our students is so valuable to the future of PMH nursing and to the health and mental health of our communities.”

Evelyn’s passion is deeply inspiring to colleagues and students alike – in fact, her ongoing role modeling and support has empowered several other PMH nurses to step forward as leaders establishing new mental health clinics to further improve access to care. Evelyn also actively encourages PMH nurses to step forward in their communities to serve key roles on boards, task forces and other opportunities to sit at the table for decision making and policy change discussions.

Colleagues say Evelyn “never backs down from an opportunity to make an improvement, meet a challenge or prove others wrong when they say it can’t be done.” Evelyn has a unique ability to see the gaps in the system and rally others to help her address those gaps to better meet the needs of students and patients.

As a result, Evelyn is an innovator and encourages those around her to take chances on new approaches and search for ways to improve patient care or nursing education. Her pioneering spirit is clearly demonstrated in her early commitment to online education opportunities.

Evelyn proposed moving the PMH-NP option of an MSN program online and completed a feasibility study. She revised the curriculum to offer courses over eight weeks instead of sixteen, sequenced courses to accommodate three different student start times, adjusted faculty staffing patterns to allow time to prepare each course and streamlined the admission process, obtaining legal authorizations from state boards of nursing and higher education boards. Evelyn’s unique vision helped set the program apart, allowed students to continue their clinical experiences during the pandemic and gain invaluable experience in telemedicine – which affords a deeper perspective about clients’ environments.

Evelyn further advances her goals of improving PMH nursing education and access to care by publishing her work and presenting broadly – from community groups concerned about mental health care to national and international professional groups and organizations working to set policies for care delivery and nursing education. She serves as an editor for Chief for Perspectives in Psychiatric Care: The Journal of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses, and has served an Editorial Board Member for the same journal.

“I have been afforded many opportunities during my career to both expand access to patient care and access to graduate education,” said Parrish. “I am unbelievably humbled and honored to receive this recognition from the APNA. I believe that through increased access to mental health education and treatment in underserved populations, that we can help reduce the stigma and improve their overall health, mental health, and wellness.”