Mary Conklen, MSN, APN, PMHCNS-BC

2015 Award for Excellence in Practice-APRN

“Educating patients about their illness, helping them problem-solve and learn new skills, while being a support and resource for the family, is very fulfilling,” says Mary Conklen on the rewarding nature of psychiatric-mental health nursing.  “Seeing patients gain confidence, manage their illness, and be successful within the community is beyond awesome. When a patient gives me their trust, we form a partnership where we both work towards getting them to a higher level of health and wellbeing.” For her dedication to patient care, her innovative approach to community mental health, and her devotion to the field of psychiatric-mental health nursing, Mary Conklen is this year’s recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – APRN.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Community Mental Health, Collaborative Healthcare

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Find new and innovative ways of doing things, step outside of the accepted/expected nursing role and work hard to prove to superiors that nursing can fill new roles. Be willing to do whatever you are asking other team members to do. Pay it forward, you did not get where you are by yourself, help new nurses thrive and survive in a constantly changing and ever complicated health care system.”

Favorite Disney movie:
Mary Poppins 

Conklen currently works as an advanced practice nurse with Memorial Physician Services, Vine Street Clinic (VSC), an outpatient clinical setting. Prior to Conklen’s arrival, VSC was comprised solely of psychiatrists; however, because of Conklen’s demonstrated clinical acumen and work ethic, the group decided to restructure their model of practice to include an APRN. “[VSC] recognized the contribution an APN could bring to the patients in their practice,” says Kathy Lee, who nominated Conklen for the award. “Because of the high quality of Mary’s practice, they invited her to join their group. These physicians have voiced a high level of satisfaction with Mary’s practice.”

Conklen used her position as the first APRN at VSC to bring in and mentor new RNs. “Mary helped create the structure that brought staff nurses into the practice,” says Lee. “Of the three staff nurses who worked with her, one is now enrolled in a Psychiatric NP program and two are enrolled in Psychiatric DNP programs…due, in large part, to Mary’s influence and mentoring.” Conklen intends to create a legacy of innovation in the field through her mentorships. “I have had a wonderful career with many opportunities and people who believed in my abilities,” she says. “I hope to spend the rest of my time [as a psychiatric-mental health nurse] mentoring new APNs [in] continuing to develop new areas of practice.”

Prior to entering private practice, Conklen worked at Logan-Mason Mental Health Center, a community mental health center, in Lincoln, Illinois. She joined as an RN and eventually earned her APRN license. Her dedication and abilities resulted in her being named Administrator of Medical Services/Medical Director at the Springfield Mental Health Center in Springfield, Illinois. As Director, Conklen streamlined access to medical services to improve care outcomes while providing support to the staff. “In the Mental Health Center, she established policies, practices, and protocols that were greatly appreciated by the nurses in the agency,” says Lee. “She was a support to them while holding all accountable for excellent practice.” Despite her instrumental role in improving care at the community mental health center, Conklen credits the collaborative team environment with the successes. “I worked with a wonderful administrative staff, supportive physicians, and a nursing staff that was committed and compassionate,” she says. “As a team, we were able to standardize the care provided to our clients, develop a peer review process, and improve access to care.” Conklen emphasized communication within her team and within the community as a whole to coordinate care, promote awareness of mental health, and secure legislative funding to support their services.

When asked about her favorite Disney character, Conklen knows the answer right away. “Princess Jasmine from the movie Aladdin, not that I am princess material by any stretch of the imagination!” she jokes. “I like her character traits, and aspire to her greatness – her continuous self-discovery, her hard work to obtain her dreams, and her inspiring others to believe in themselves and follow their hearts.” Conklen is an inspiration to psychiatric-mental health nurses for her innovative approaches to care and dedication to her craft, with her self-discovery and hard work mirroring that of her favorite Disney princess. “Personally, I can attest to Mary's dedication and commitment to the group of underserved patients we treat,” says Lee. “She is a person of the highest integrity, true to the values nursing holds dear.” We look forward to celebrating Conklen’s achievements at the APNA 29th Annual Conference October 28-31 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.


AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC NURSES ASSOCIATION and APNA-Logoare registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as trademarks of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.
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.