Ruth Staten, APNA Award for Distinguished ServiceRuth 'Topsy' Staten, PhD, ARNP-CS
2014 Award for Distinguished Service


“She is a visionary with the ability to see possibilities instead of barriers,” says Ann Peden, who nominated this year’s recipient of the APNA Award for Distinguished Service: Ruth “Topsy” Staten. It is that vision that has driven Staten as an advanced practice psychiatric-mental health nurse, an educator, a researcher, a leader within APNA, and overall, as an advocate for mental health. “I am constantly trying to see how we can plan things out so that we are not creating barriers to our optimistic, exciting, and viable future,” she says. “I think so many times in nursing practice and education, we often come up with an immediate solution but we aren’t thinking in the future to see what kind of impact this solution will have for the future generations...Though I do think we’re getting better at taking that long-term approach – both within nursing and within APNA – thinking about what the decision we make today will look like in 10 years, in 20 years.”

Staten has a long history of leadership within APNA, from serving as the first President of the APNA Kentucky Chapter, to co-chairing the Advanced Practice Council, to holding a Member-at-Large position on the APNA Board of Directors. “I was attracted to APNA because its mission serves all psychiatric nurses regardless of education or focus – it’s really about all psychiatric nurses,” she says. One initial draw to getting involved was her concern over chaos surrounding advanced practice nursing. “I wanted to be well informed about the issues,” she remembers. “As importantly, I hoped that through being a part of APNA I could be a part of a healthy solution and one that would take us into the future.”

And Staten definitely has her eye to the future – both its challenges and opportunities. “I’m so proud of the lead psychiatric-mental health nurses have taken in improving care for persons with mental health problems,” she says. “This is so important, as people with mental health problems still are not receiving the level of care they deserve.” But, she says, “we’ve been so busy answering the call and filling the gap - I worry that we are falling into what I consider to be some of the major problems in health care and in psychiatric care as well: the emphasis still primarily on caring for people who are sick, rather than figuring out ways that we can promote health and prevent illness.” She has a call to action for psychiatric-mental health nurses:  “We need to turn the vision in a different direction.”

She is helping make that happen in her position as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the University Of Louisville School Of Nursing. “I’m really trying to assure that we have a clear vision for our students that all nurses are responsible for the mental wellbeing of our clients regardless of setting,” she says. “I think we’re doing a better job universally at that, but there is still a tendency to isolate persons with mental health needs to psychiatric settings, when the reality is that most of the population is cared for in all settings.” Staten’s research reflects a strong commitment to mental health promotion – throughout her career she has mostly focused on young people and adolescents. Right now she is in the midst of studying college students and sleep. She is also working with former colleagues at Fort Knox to look at “strategies for working with soldiers, veterans, and their families to try to mitigate the stress that being at war for so long has had on them.”

What’s most important, Staten says, is “always being involved in the conversation on the direction that psychiatric-mental health nursing takes... with the school, with our students, and within the profession.” She emphasizes the necessity of “aiming for a balanced approach to mental health treatment.”  And based upon what her colleagues say, she plays a valuable role in making sure that that conversation moves us in the right direction: Friend and colleague Kathy Brotzge says, “Topsy has inspired me and countless others to not be afraid of the challenge, seek out what is best for our patients and for our peers.”

Overall, when it comes to the profession, she has this to say: “We are all in this world together and I think we are very fortunate as psychiatric-mental health nurses to have the understanding, the vision, and the wisdom that we do about people and their lives. I think knowing that, we can work every day to assure that we’re in support of the people around us and use the influences we have to push for a meaningful life for everyone we help.”

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