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2023 APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN


Nominated by Christine Brigette Costa

Kathleen McCoy embodies excellence in leadership through her work to advance the practice of PMH nursing, empower a generation of new PMH nurses, advance key policy changes, while devoting her time to service.

Throughout her career, Kathleen has pushed boundaries and helped move PMH nursing forward.

“Leadership is running the edge: Asking hard questions, moving policy forward, invoking the law when no one else will, supporting patients to make good decisions, helping your community by saying hello to those no one says hello to, and promoting opportunities for colleagues,” she shares.

Kathleen believes her introduction to PMH nursing was a practical, happy accident. After working as a staff nurse for 20 years, a change in life circumstances dictated that she needed to pursue additional education and adjust the demands of her career. Within two years, Kathleen attained a master’s degree from SUNY Stonybrook and began a career as a PMH-CNS.

A career-long interest in trauma and PTSD developed through her early experience working at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) as a graduate student nurse intern during the Gulf War. Moving from military to civilian applications of trauma informed care, Kathleen saw opportunities using trauma based philosophical underpinnings and skills across diverse populations. Throughout the trajectory of her career, infusing her experiences more broadly, trauma-based care has been central to her career success.

As a new PMH-APRN, Kathleen found that few understood what PMH-APRNs were or the therapeutic value they provide and learned to work in an environment that didn’t understand advanced the PMH nursing role. Here she taught the professionals she encountered about PMH nursing and how it must expand and evolve. Kathleen advocates that PMH nurses should be working across all health care settings at some level because “without mental health there is no health.”

Breaking through, Kathleen served as the first PMH-APRN at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health, to be invited to assume the role of “medical staff”. Later, she opened a private practice, and advanced her qualifications, securing dual NP certifications: PMH-NP and FNP while simultaneously attaining a DNSc at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). She advises, “Never stop asking questions. We elevate people’s consciousness when we raise questions. Sometimes one must be tenacious in doing ‘the right thing’, even if it isn’t popular, to evoke change.”

In 2007, Kathleen launched her academic career with a faculty position at UTHSC, Over the span of the next 16 years, Kathleen has educated and mentored PMH nurses across the nation, serving students from more than 38 states, in 3 different universities. At Brandman University in Irvine California, Kathleen built the PMH-NP DNP Program and Post-Doctoral Programs, serving as the founding PMH-NP Program Chair/Director. Through this work, she published one of the first articles advocating for teaching psychotherapy to NPs.

Kathleen’s career took her to The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio where, as an Associate Professor, she helped build the PMH-NP workforce in Corpus Christi, while expanding her skill in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) respectively, with the Beck Institute, as a nurse scholar, and the DOD Military Health Institute.

Kathleen continues her important leadership inspiring the next generation of PMH nurses today as Associate Professor in the Community Mental Health Department of the University of South Alabama (USA), Mobile, College of Nursing. In addition to her graduate-level teaching responsibilities, Kathleen precepts graduate, masters and doctoral students, mentoring them to rise to the highest levels of their professional aspirations.

Kathleen passionately urges all students to:

“Find someone you think the world of in your field and ask them to mentor you. Mentors assist with clinical skill and facilitate immeasurable growth and understanding. Connecting with a mentor is like spraying WD40 all over your career. There is tremendous satisfaction to be attained within the symbiotic relationship of the mentoring dyad. Be a mentor, be a mentee”

All throughout her career, Kathleen consistently worked to positively impact PMH nursing. The American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC) invited Kathleen to serve on the Content Expert Panel for the PMH-NP certification examination to assist in developing and beta testing the integration of body systems as well as the developmental stages into the PMH-NP exam. This work spanned five years, during which Kathleen was twice elected by her peers to serve as Chair.

Kathleen works to advance proper PMH-APRN reimbursement, serving on the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) Neuropsychiatric Subcommittee Wave 2-5, AANP/NP to further clarify reimbursement policies for PMH-NPs on topics including Major Depression, Schizophrenia and Cerebrovascular Accidents. Currently she represents the NP profession in the development of American Adult ADHD Guidelines collaborating across disciplines with REACH and CHADD.

Her expansive advocacy work includes publications, podium presentations, podcasts, social media, and poster presentations on PMH nursing and mental health topics to educate students, the community, and colleagues. Kathleen also champions diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts through a program at USA to help students address implicit bias. She currently serves on the APNA DEI Advisory Committee as well, moving the DEI agenda forward in practical every day clinical application and promoting respect for others, especially the marginalized.

Most recently, Kathleen has served in an innovative practice at a federally qualified refugee centered medical home providing telehealth to patients who largely do not speak English. Working with interpreters, she provides care to refugees, who have few options, fewer resources and significant trauma.

“In all, PMH-APRNs relate with people. It’s at the core of the art and science of what we do. It’s not all learned in one course. We embrace the path of being a psychotherapist alongside new technologies and techniques. This piece can so easily be lost as we all work to provide care within today’s business models. It is crucial to do what is needed to retain the role of psychotherapist and practices of psychotherapy as APRNs. Psychotherapy is the cornerstone of advancing PMH practice.”