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2022 APNA Psychiatric Nurse of the Year

Joyce Shea

Joyce M. Shea, DNSc, APRN, PMHCNS-BC

Joyce Shea is a visionary nurse researcher and educator who has pioneered development and delivery of integrated behavioral health care (IBHC). Over the course of four decades she has worked towards transforming patient care by nurturing the development of practices that are now familiar to psychiatric-mental health nurses— telehealth, inter-professional practice, integrated care, palliative care, as well as shifting attitudes toward mental illness.

Drawn early in her career to focus on making a difference for people with severe mental illness, Shea sought to help others better understand this patient population. While working in an emergency setting, she helped both nurses and physicians overcome their stigmatized ideas about patients with mental health challenges. Educating colleagues in this way afforded Shea a deep appreciation of how physical and mental health is intertwined – the mind body connection. These foundational experiences inspired her passion to advance the integration of behavioral health care.

“I’ve always been a psychiatric-mental health nurse. I’ve worked in acute care, emergency, consultation-liaison, outpatient and on a mobile crisis unit.

All this experience in different settings really showed me what the PMH nursing perspective can do, what a difference our work can make and how vital it is that we better integrate mental health care with physical health care,” said Shea.

Shea’s numerous IBHC accomplishments have served to help expand mental health care to new venues and highlight the important roles nurses play in integrated health care.  While health care culture today is focused on the social determinants of health, Shea’s work identified and anticipated this need more than a dozen years ago, developing fundamental PMH nursing curricula that has helped professionals better understand the needs of underserved populations.

Shea’s expertise and leadership has garnered $6 million in Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grants to date. Through these efforts she has developed specialized competencies in IBHC and evidence-based telehealth care practices – including designing and establishing validity for the only existing tool (the Integrated Care Competency Assessment Tool) to measure integrated care competencies among APRN students and established providers.

Further, Shea built a collaborative of more than forty HRSA grantees across the US to develop a nationally distributed telehealth toolkit for nurses; created the EDICT (Education for the Delivery of Integrated Care Today) model in which FNP and PMH-NP students are educated side-by-side in federally qualified health centers (FQHC) developing IBHC skills; and implemented a model in which APRN students develop nurse leadership in telehealth and inter-professional practice at FQHCs.

“While integration of care is the goal, it can be very difficult to do well,” Shea says. “The COVID-19 Pandemic made it even more important to recognize the mixed needs of patients – boosting the prioritization of integrated care. As a result, it’s come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Shea also contributes to the field as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Professor at Fairfield University’s Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies. As Associate Dean, Shea is responsible for the curriculum and accreditation standards for ten graduate programs –seven of which are in nursing. And, as a professor, Shea teaches students in the PMH-NP program, serving as a key advisor to help guide several doctoral students.

Shea’s long-standing commitment to the advancement of PMH nursing is also demonstrated in her service contributions to APNA. She served 2-terms as Secretary on the APNA Board of Directors and was appointed to the Council for Mental Health Advocacy Steering Committee. During her tenure on the APNA Board, APNA advanced numerous national projects, including APNA’s Suicide Prevention Training program – which has been accessed by more than 4,200 professionals and has been recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) leadership for its groundbreaking focus on evidence-based competencies in preventing death by suicide.

As an APNA board member, Shea also supported APNA’s joint leadership with other nursing organizations in developing The Well-Being Initiative which has been a beacon of nurse wellness throughout the COVID pandemic. Her sustained contributions to the development of PMH nursing roles also include her 2018-2022 leadership as Co-Chair of the task force to revise the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice – a document consistently referenced by lawmakers, health systems and employers, colleges of nursing and professional organizations in describing the full scope and context of PMH nurse abilities and roles.

Shea’s work has been disseminated in national and international journals as well as at regional, national, and international conferences. She has written book chapters on health assessment and promotion, the assessment of depression in an international simulation textbook (which received the American Journal of Nursing award for Book of the Year), and a case study for multi-disciplinary audiences on spiritual issues faced by families with lived experience of sexual abuse. She was invited to lecture in Australia and Ireland on recovery from mental illness and establishing effective mental health research designs.

Shea advises those just starting out in nursing, “See patients as people who deserve your respect. Recognize how important mental health skills will be in every role you’ll have in the future. I believe all PMH nurses should be encouraged to work in non-traditional settings to bring their experience and knowledge to bear – school-based settings, health departments, you name it. Bring your skills and knowledge to better inform your non psych colleagues. This will bring you unimaginable satisfaction in your career.”