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2020 Recipient APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN

JoEllen Schimmels

JoEllen Schimmels, DNP, RN, PMHNP-BC, FAAN

“As an Army behavioral health nurse practitioner with over 20 years of experience [who was] Bronze Star decorated twice for meritorious service during combat deployments, JoEllen Schimmels has lead the writing and implementation of many behavioral health nursing policies and standardized processes in military medicine,” says Mary Forslund, PMHNP-BC, who nominated JoEllen for the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN. “I’m a rule follower – I like policy and procedures,” JoEllen jokes. But JoEllen has transformed the rules of care for military members and their families, leaving a tangible impact across the armed forces and around the world.

JoEllen’s passion for supporting her colleagues with guidelines for how best to care for service members drives her work redefining standards and procedures. “Our readiness mission is vital, as is ensuring we are both prepared for these missions and confident with consistent objectives and training,” she says. To this end, JoEllen has written more than 15 policies, papers, and standardized practices for behavioral health nurses within the Department of Defense. She has also shared her expertise to inform more than 40 Surgeon General level policies. “JoEllen has standardized and written policy for multiple processes across the Army, such as inpatient behavioral health and nurse case management, and she has led four military health system-wide initiatives to regulate Army, Navy, and Air Force processes,” says Tarah Lewis, JoEllen’s colleague.

Within the armed forces, JoEllen’s leadership in the expansion of access to care and advocacy for the role of nursing is unparalleled. “She secured 25 additional PMH-APRN positions, increasing the Army’s PMH-APrN pool by 50% and filling mission-critical vacancies,” says Forslund. Through her fierce advocacy for a PMHRN position, Joellen also established the first nursing position at the Surgeon General level. JoEllen’s visionary leadership also helped develop and implement a behavioral health outpatient program, which has increased capacity by 300%. “I feel compelled to use policy to educate others on what we [as psychiatric-mental health nurses] are capable of doing and how to do it well,” says JoEllen. “There are usually no external wounds on our patients, and the most important equipment is the nurse.”

“I feel compelled to use policy to educate others on what we [as psychiatric-mental health nurses] are capable of doing and how to do it well.”

In her role as Program Director and Assistant Professor in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program at the Uniformed Services University, JoEllen is inspired by her own love of learning as she helps prepare the next generation of nurses. “I love teaching and learning. I believe you cannot do one without the other…I find the mix between clinician, educator, leader, and scholar rewarding and strive to make a safe, creative environment for students, colleagues, and patients,” she says. JoEllen uses her military experience and her role on USU’s curriculum committee to help students build skills needed for their work in the field. She even implemented a tele-behavioral health program and a Psychological First Aid program, both of which help students better prepare for the future of nursing. As Lewis details, “As chair of the curriculum committee, she contributed significantly to the reaccreditation process by rewriting policies and syllabi and enhancing course, program, student, and faculty outcomes…[The result is] dramatically improved credibility for behavioral health nursing.”

Throughout all her work, JoEllen stays inspired with a simple piece of advice. “Never lose your PMH nurse! We listen, we consider the whole person, we encourage emotion and know that it comes not only with vulnerability, but meaning and clarity,” she says. “In the military, line troops sometimes refer to behavioral health as the ‘wizards’. I think PMH nursing is magical. We are unique in nursing, but also across healthcare.”