Janette O'Connor, BS, BSN, MS, RN-BC
2015 Award for Excellence in Practice - RN

Janette O’Connor isn’t one to back down from a challenge. “People with chronic and severe mental illness are living 25 years less than the general population,” O’Connor says. “I was bothered by this and worked collaboratively with my treatment team to come up with strategies to decrease morbidity and mortality in patients with Serious and Persistent Mental Illness.” Janette O’Connor is the recipient of this year’s Award for Excellence in Practice – RN for her dedication to the holistic treatment of the severely and chronically mentally ill.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Holistic Health, Integrated Care

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Practice the philosophy that one size does not fit all. Stephen Covey says: ‘Begin with the end in mind,’ do this both for yourself and your patients. Find creative innovative ways to increase awareness in the general population about mental illness. Involve patients in the decisions about their care despite cognitive impairment.”

Favorite Disney movie:

O’Connor’s approach to treatment is an interdisciplinary one – when treating a patient, she focuses not only on their mental health, but on their physical health as well. “A diagnosis does not define a patient,” she says. “Patients have the basic physiological, emotional and spiritual needs as every other human being and each patient has the ability and capacity to reach self-actualization.” To that end, O’Connor has instituted a variety of programs at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Westchester Division, that address both mental and physical well-being. “[Janette has] helped patients develop healthy exercise and food plans to help increase the life-spans of those in this population,” says Carolyn J. Castelli, who nominated O’Connor for this award. “She started a Healthy Lifestyles patient group on her unit and a patient garden to teach patients how to have a food garden and eat in a healthy way.”

In addition to these efforts, O’Connor also devotes her time to attracting recent nursing graduates to the psychiatric-mental health nursing field. “The stigma of mental illness is not isolated to the general population, it is within our profession,” she says. “We are often told stories by faculty members and encouraged by them not to choose PMHN as a new graduate nurse. If this is true, how can we recruit and retain nurses to our specialty? My idea was to start with the nursing students, teaching them how to articulate themselves in a language which empowers and instills hope in people living with SPMI as well as building their own confidence and voice.” 

With support from the hospital, O’Connor created the Nurses as Partners Program, in which graduate nursing students are paired with experienced nurses. “Because of NAP, scores of new graduates have been mentored by more experienced nurses,” says Castelli. Elizabeth Farley, one of O’Connor’s references, adds, “[Janette] is dedicated to the advancement of nursing and is particularly passionate about fostering graduate nurses interested in psychiatric nursing. As a Clinical Senior staff nurse, [she] welcomes nursing students each semester and infuses her enthusiasm for the profession with these students.” Through this program, O’Connor has created a system which serves to counteract the initial nervousness students feel towards their psychiatric-mental health nursing rotation. By experiencing the field first-hand, these students are able to get a more accurate understanding of what it means to be a psychiatric-mental health nurse. “We must portray our specialty in a positive manner,” O’Connor says of her efforts. “Creating the Nurses as Partners Program was my way of attracting and retaining new graduates to our specialty as well as facilitating a successful transition from academia to the nursing profession.”

O’Connor’s diligent work to establish the future generation of psychiatric-mental health nursing as well as her endeavor to foster healthy lifestyles among the chronically and severely mentally ill show why she was selected to receive APNA’s Award for Excellence in Practice – RN. We look forward to celebrating this achievement with her at the APNA 29th Annual Conference, October 28-31 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Like the qualities of the main character in her favorite Disney movie, Cinderella, O’Connor’s kindness and selflessness is reflected throughout her practice.


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The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is accredited with distinction as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.