2012 APNA Award for Distinguished Service

Mary Moller, DNP, ARNP, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, CPRP, FAAN, the recipient of the 2012 APNA Award for Distinguished Service, is a dedicated and spirited advocate - whether it is for the people she serves, her profession, her professional association, or broader concepts such as recovery, her passion and energy ensure that she makes an impact. “Mary may only be starting but has already left behind a trail of evidence of commitment to PMH nursing and the patients, families and communities, indeed, the world which we all share in common and through APNA as well," says Kathleen McCoy in her nomination letter. "She has succeeded in starting to disassemble the middle walls between patients, caregivers, and those in between, and in doing so, diffusing the sting and impact of stigma."

Moller is currently an Associate Professor and Specialty Director for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing at the Yale University School of Nursing. Throughout her career she has developed research and clinical tools that promote recovery for persons diagnosed with complex psychiatric conditions and has partnered with consumers to promote recovery. "My entire career has been focused on trying to understand the patient’s lived experience," says Moller. "In 1985, I got an idea that if we could teach about psychiatric symptoms and brain function to nursing students, certainly we should be able to teach the same material to patients and their family members-just like we teach about illness management and relapse prevention in all other aspects of nursing care." From this idea evolved a 6-session community-based psychoeducational program which in turn evolved into a workshop which was presented several times at NAMI's 1988 Annual Conference. This workshop in turn evolved into a video series that was disseminated to schools and treatment centers across the nation. This is just one example of the many innovative programs, research, tools, and models that characterize Moller's career. She is currently conducting a two-year study on training case managers in her Milestones of Adjustment Post-Psychosis (MAPP) Recovery Model, "measuring outcomes quarterly using the MAPP recovery trajectory, the MM-SMAT, quality of life, and the Wellness Assessment tool." 

Moller's involvement in APNA is extensive. After attending her first conference to present on her model of educating patients, providers, and family members together, at the behest of Shirley Smoyak, "I was bitten by the APNA bug," she says. A past APNA President, she has presented at numerous APNA conferences on topics such as trauma, illness cognition, recovery from psychosis, and recovery models for inpatient care.  She is also a member of the APNA Recovery to Practice Task Force Steering Committee, Curriculum Workgroup, and Faculty, whose work, as part of a SAMHSA initiative, involves developing curriculum and training materials to increase nursing knowledge of recovery-oriented care and how it translates into nursing practice. “She has mentored many other nurses in APNA to take on positions of contribution and responsibility – thereby ensuring the growth and stability of the organization,” says Mary Jensen.

Moller graciously took the time to answer a couple of questions about herself:

What are a couple of points that stand out for you in your career?

The professional highlight of my life was being elected President of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. There are simply no words to describe how incredibly my life was changed and made so much richer and fulfilled through my interactions with the board, the staff, and of course the many fabulous people I met during those three years on the board. I came on the board of APNA at a period of significant change in my life - closing the clinic after 16 ½ years and moving to New Haven, CT to get back into teaching full-time at the Yale School of Nursing. Without the anchor and rock-solid family that APNA provided in my life during that time, I truly don’t know if I would have been able to make the overwhelming adjustment that life in the Ivy League creates.

One pivotal patient experience occurred when I was in graduate school. I was assigned to a patient with the worst depression I had ever seen.  She was admitted to the psychiatric institute in a catatonic state.  She was motionless and frozen.  Her family couldn’t pry her hands off the rocker she hadn’t left in days. They brought her to the hospital in the back of a pick-up in that very rocker. She was dying of dehydration. We inserted an N-G tube to feed her and a Foley catheter because she couldn’t even empty her bladder. I was with her every day, talking away as I do even though she was basically in a waking coma and completely unresponsive to any kind of stimulation. Eventually we received permission to administer ECT. After that first ECT it was a miracle!  She came to life and opened her eyes. I was there with her and when I spoke to her she said “You have been my visiting nurse, haven’t you?” She didn’t recognize me, but she knew my voice. The brain is never ‘off duty.’

Why did you choose to get involved in APNA and what is your vision for the association?

Words cannot describe the influence that APNA has had on me personally and professionally. APNA continually serves as a platform to encourage, develop, and spread new ideas. APNA is a quiet cheerleader for psychiatric nurses to share their work, discuss common concerns, and develop new ideas. APNA is a think tank for everything that is psychiatric nursing and has acquired a seat at every national table in which anything about psychiatric care is involved.  What a thrill to watch it grow to over the years to the premier psychiatric nursing organization it is today. What a privilege to serve as president and be on the board and learn all the phenomenal behind-the-scenes work that occurs to produce the amazing programs, national, and international influence that has occurred and will continue. The momentum is unstoppable. APNA is only restricted by psychiatric nurses not coming forth to share ideas and get involved. At APNA there is a place for every psychiatric nurse to get involved whether it can only be an hour a month or daily! APNA is a palpable, living organism comprised of the best of the best psychiatric nurses across this country. Just think if every single member would recruit one new member we could eventually, conceivably, have every one of the 93,000 psychiatric nurses in this country as part of the APNA collective!

What are three things that you would like to tell all PMH nurses?

  1. NEVER give up on yourself as a psychiatric nurse. Don’t ever think you have reached your maximum productivity or creativity. There is ALWAYS room to grow and develop. If you feel burned out or wonder what there could possibly be that would motivate you, give your national APNA a call. You will not be met by a recording—you will talk to a real person who can steer you to the right person, committee, task force, or council to re-kindle that flame that still burns inside of you to go the extra mile for your patients and your profession.
  2. NEVER give up on your patients. If the system you are in is draining your life-force, remember, we are here for our patients and their family members. Find a quiet moment in the day to reflect what brought you to this work—the work that no one else wants to do—you are the spark that gives hope to those who are hopeless, meaning to life when there seems to be no meaning, and a second thought to living for those who think the only way out is death. Remember, even to those who don’t seem to be listening, to those who are in the depths of depression, that your voice will resonate. You will be remembered—not for what you said, but because you were there.
  3. NEVER give up on your profession. Psychiatric nursing is the most incredible type of nursing that is possible. We are the architects of our patient’s futures. We are their external egos until they are able to regain their own internal sense of self. We shape their recovery and their ability to rejoin the world—those of you who work in the acute care setting do not get to see the fruits of your labors. But, believe me—you leave an indelible mark on the spirit of each and every patient. Even when you feel all you do is riot control on the unit, the patients are watching and taking their cues from you, the nurse. A kind word, kind eyes, and kind touch are what we are born to give our patients—don’t be afraid to break the rules.


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