Cheryl PuntilCheryl Puntil, MN, APRN, PMHCNS-BC
2017 Award for Distinguished Service

Cheryl Puntil's advice for future nurses reflects her team-based approach to service: “Nurses are part of an interprofessional team,” she says. “Students should learn how to be your best within a team and make an impact.” Cheryl’s dedication to human connections within psychiatric-mental health nursing translates to her passion for improving training on assessment and management of suicide risk for nurses everywhere. She served as an integral member of the APNA team of experts who developed the first suicide prevention competencies for psychiatric-mental health nurses. It is for this work, among her many contributions to APNA, that she is this year’s recipient of the APNA Award for Distinguished Service.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Suicide Prevention

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Learn how to be your best within a team and make an impact. Find a good mentor.”

Psych Nursing Light Bulb Moment:
“I remember being on a GI floor and talking to patients for so long that I was there until six o'clock! The relationship aspect of psychiatric nursing drew me in.”

Cheryl developed her expertise in suicide prevention during her time as a clinical nurse specialist at UCLA. Of the many aspects of care that this role incorporated, the development of an 8 hour suicide prevention course particularly sparked Cheryl’s interest. After attending a session on suicide prevention at the APNA Annual Conference, she was inspired to use the techniques learned in this session to create this course. “I was very passionate about this course and I felt that nurses needed to be taught how to treat patients at risk of suicide,” she says. From there, Cheryl completed a fellowship on evidence-based practice on suicide and self-injurious behavior.

She brought these experiences to her service on the APNA Education Council Suicide Competencies Workgroup. Formed in 2012, this workgroup was appointed by the APNA Board of Directors to examine the need for suicide prevention competencies for psychiatric-mental health nurses. “We realized that many nurses didn’t know how to deal appropriately with self-directed violence without the intent to die versus self-directed violence with the intent to die,” Cheryl says. “We decided that our nurses in an inpatient setting needed competencies, since existing competencies were for psychiatrists and social workers, but not nurses at the bedside.”

As the workgroup developed the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Essential Competencies for Assessment and Management of Individuals at Risk for Suicide, Cheryl held both herself and other committee members to a high standard to ensure that these competencies would adequately address the needs of nurses and, most importantly, improve the outcomes of those to whom they provide care. “Throughout the process, Cheryl consistently raised questions and found ways to increase the effectiveness of the program,” says Pamela Greene, one of her nominators. “I am awed by her passion and compassion when providing care to people with mental illness, and most specifically people who are suicidal.” Janet York, one of Cheryl’s nominators, credits Cheryl’s determination to have the competencies developed: “Through her vision, determination, and perseverance, the APNA competencies initiative became a reality and an exemplar, continues to expand, and addresses both a major national public health problem and gap in nursing education.” Cheryl continued to be involved after the competencies were developed, assisting in the piloting of the subsequent training.

Since its inception, the suicide competencies training has reached 9 states across the country with over 500 nurses attending. Of those nurses, 98% indicated in their evaluation that attending this training has influenced them to change their practice. “It could be very daunting to take on something like this,” says Cheryl of her experience on the committee. “The support of the organization and the other committee members made this experience very satisfying, and we accomplished something great. Being a part of the team has been the most valuable.”

For Cheryl, receiving this award represents her journey with APNA. “I started out being a member in 1983, and because of an interest I was brought into the process of something very important to the community,” she says. “This award is inspiring for me too – I want to be inspiring for others to see they can accomplish something like this too.” Cheryl’s service will be celebrated this fall at the APNA 31st Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

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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.