Angela Thomas, MSN, BSN, PHN, RN
2015 Award for Innovation – Individual

Growing up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Angela Mackay Thomas knew she wanted to help those around her lead healthy, happy lives. “I saw many individuals that were diagnosed and/or labeled with mental illness who were looked down upon by family and friends ignorant of how to care for their loved ones,” she says. “Many times they ended up homeless and mistreated. I have always been curious as to what the triggers were and how to help.” For her innovative psychiatric-mental health nursing role as well as her creative team approach to meeting mental health care needs across hospital departments, Angela Thomas is the recipient of the 2015 APNA Award for Excellence in Innovation – Individual.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Staff and Patient Safety, Integrated Care

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Psychiatric nursing requires exceptional empathy and emotional resilience. Future PMHNs should be humble, and be prepared to offer time and energy in ensuring patients’ needs are met.”

Favorite Disney movie:
The Lion King

Thomas serves as the Psychiatric Resource Nurse at Regions Hospital in Minnesota. In this role, she provides consultation and leads a monthly class for non-mental health nurses so that they are better equipped to address their patients’ mental health needs and partner with persons who have disruptive behaviors.  “Angela brings help and role modeling of therapeutic, effective communication with these patients,” says Wendy Waddell, one of Thomas’ references, of her efforts. “Instead of taking over the care of the patient, Angela is able to assist the primary nurse in incorporating therapeutic interactions and safety.” Thomas has even expanded her position to involve care planning assistance, family conferences, de-escalation, and safety advice.

In addition to this collaborative approach, Thomas is also the creator of the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) at Regions Hospital. “When I graduated as a nurse, I noticed that…more research and focus needed to be allocated to mental illness,” says Thomas. “I felt as if I needed to put in time and energy into making a difference not just in Minnesota, but also nationally.” In order to best address this, Thomas created PERT, a team of experienced mental health staff trained to intervene in the medical and surgical inpatient setting. Thomas worked with non-psychiatric and psychiatric healthcare providers alike in order to create a system that met the needs of all departments.  Her collaborative efforts to establish PERT caused Regions Hospital to see decreased use of restraints as well as more appropriate use of psychiatric medications. “Angela has created a health care delivery method that truly improves the care of the patient and ensures a safe environment for all patients, staff, and providers,” says Gayle Godfrey, who nominated Thomas for this award. “As the primary educator for the PERT team, she works with the Regions Hospital simulation center to provide learning opportunities for the mental health staff that are far superior to other types of learning.”

Thomas’s drive to improve health care processes is reflective of her indomitable spirit. “My mom once told me that the sky is my limit, but I should also remember that the Americans traveled to the moon,” she jokes. “Psychiatric nursing is tremendously intellectually stimulating, as well as challenging. Every day is different.” Through her compassion and perseverance, Thomas has created a system that results in a safer environment for both staff and patients. This selfless attitude is even reflected in her favorite Disney movie, The Lion King. “My daughters have told me that I am like Simba who returned to the kingdom to save everyone,” she says. “This award encourages me to continue working as a nurse and pursuing academic research to continuously improve services to the mental health community.” We look forward to celebrating Thomas’s achievements at the 29th Annual Conference, October 28-31 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.


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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.