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2022 APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN

Major Renel Ramos, DNP, MSN, RN, NPP, PMHNP-BC

As Chief Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for PMH-RNs and PMH-APRNs, Renel Ramos has developed many of the policies and programs that have become the cornerstone of mental health care within the military. Practicing psychiatric-mental health nursing and military service is a winning combination for Ramos:

“I feel so blessed that I get to do what I love for a living – advocate for my patients and peers and serve my country at the same time,” she says.

Emigrating from the Philippines in 1996 with her BSN, Ramos began her U.S. career working at a state psychiatric-mental health hospital in New York while completing her MSN and PMH-NP degrees. Next, she moved on to the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Services Program (CPEP) at Queens Hospital Center, where she developed new policies and expanded PMH-APRN functions to bridge the gaps in care created by a lack of available psychiatrists.

Eager to give back to the U.S., Ramos volunteered for the Medical Reserve Corps within the Department of Health and Human Services. Then, through a connection made at an APNA conference in 2011, she learned about opportunities for PMH-APRNs within the U.S. Air Force. One year later, Ramos became an American citizen, took her oath as an officer, and started Air Force training – beginning her military career as a Captain.

Ramos carved a path for expanded roles for APRNs in the military, serving as the first PMH-NP working at both Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. and Yokota Air Base in Japan. She then took on the role of Medical Director at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan – the largest U.S. Air Base in the Pacific – where she was the only prescriber.

To improve access to care at Kadena, Ramos secured approval to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) in Hawaii. The agreement allowed three prescribers and two therapists from the Army to provide ongoing telehealth care to service members and their families serving overseas in Japan, an arrangement that would become more useful than anyone could have predicted.

“Having a structure already in place to provide telehealth services to service members in Japan was pivotal when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived,” says Ramos. “We were able to capitalize on the platform we had developed and expand it to accommodate the 339% increase in the number of patients requesting care and services during the pandemic.”

An advocate for reducing stigma and expanding access to mental health care within the military, Ramos traveled across Asia and Europe educating senior U.S. military leadership on the importance of effective mental health care for troops. When the pandemic canceled in-person training of more than 250 leaders from bases around the world, Ramos pivoted to a virtual platform to ensure critical information, policies and training reached leaders, allowing them to successfully execute their missions.

In addition to her position developing policies and managing mental health care for the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, Ramos created a structure and essential transition to practice “ramp-up guide” for new PMH NP graduates to ensure a smooth and safe transition into new roles and assignments.

Ramos observes, “There’s a great deal of advocacy work involved in my position. We have to reach out to leadership at bases throughout the world and ask them to acknowledge and follow new guidelines and recommendations, and ensure PMH nurses are heard and supported in their roles…we also want to make sure we can keep our service members as part of the force. If they are treated, they can they come back onto the force, so for us, retainability goes hand-in hand with treatment.”

Last year, Ramos was selected to Lt. Colonel and Chief Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for PMH-RNs and PMH-APRNs and completed her DNP. She now works from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, where she’s responsible for force development and growth of 89 active duty PMH-RN and PMH-APRNs working within the Air Force.

Ramos’ career has not only elevated the role of the PMH nurse within the US military, it is also a source of family pride. She was nominated for this award by her son, Emmanuel Ramos MSN PMH-BC RN-BC, a PMH nurse working in New York who is very proud to call his impressive mother his mentor.