The Power of Mentorship: How One Nurse Found Her Answer with APNA Mentor Match

APNA News: The Psychiatric Nursing Voice  |  November 2017 Members' Corner Edition


After practicing mental health nursing for a decade or more, Jenna Andersen, RN, found herself at a decision point. Was she ready to take on the challenge of additional schooling to become an NP? The path to becoming a Nurse Practitioner was one way to meet her two career goals: to enhance her capacity to help others and increase her earning potential.

Jenna is employed as Primary Care Mental Health Integration RN Care Manager at Coeur d’Alene VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in North Idaho. To aid in her dilemma she turned to APNA for some direction— starting with APNA Mentor Match. APNA Mentor Match is an online tool to connect prospective mentees and mentors. This resource is available exclusively to APNA members.

Jenna Andersen
Jenna Andersen

Looking to expand her scope of reference, she found it helpful to search the nationwide listing of potential mentors to find a good match. She explains, “I went online to APNA Member Bridge and saw ‘Find a Mentor’. I wrote an email with what I was looking for and sent it to four or five people.”

Not knowing what to expect from this resource, Jenna was pleasantly surprised. 

“Personally, I didn’t think I’d get much of a response…but lo and behold…Within 24 hours, three of the four replied with the fourth soon to follow. They were more than happy to help. That was surprising in and of itself.”

The experience level of the mentors and the ability to customize her search were particularly of value to Jenna. “So many people were wanting to help.  I was very impressed they were highly qualified. It was worth reaching out for their expertise,” Andersen explains. “I reached out to people with university work experience. You can search for local people if that is what you want. Think about what you are trying to get out of it and use info APNA provides to narrow it down. Reach out to a few people and find the right fit.”

Thanks to the search tool, Jenna found prospective mentors who had extensive backgrounds putting together university NP programs. One was Michael Rice, PhD, APRN, BC, FAAN, Professor & Endowed Chair of Psychiatric Nursing, College of Nursing, University of Colorado. Of her contact with Rice, Jenna recounts, “He gave me local contacts in my area who could help inform my decision and be potential preceptors if I did decide to return to school. He gave me insights on different colleges and what to look for.”      

Michael Rice
Michael Rice

Rice describes their conversation, “As she lived in an area where I had started an NP program, I was a good person for her to interact with. We discussed the two schools in the area and how she could get a sense of what the Psych NP role was about. My background also provided her with a range of former students who still remained in the area and were good contacts for her to talk with about the Psych NP role.”

Marla McCall
Marla McCall

Additionally, she had some helpful interactions with Marla McCall, PhD, MSN, APRN-BC who works for the Veterans Health Administration in Mather, California.  McCall shared her positive experiences at the VA and graciously offered her editing abilities for any college applications Jenna might want to submit.

Within her first year of membership with APNA, Jenna not only looked to APNA Mentor Match for finding answers, she also decided to attend her first APNA Annual Conference. She imagined the robust education sessions might give her a feel for what it would be like to be back in the classroom. The conference would also provide her a chance to talk to other psychiatric-mental health nurses who work in a variety of settings. What she discovered from these interactions was a positive consensus about working as an advanced practice nurse, “Everybody that l talked to about level of satisfaction… liked it, recommended it…said that it’s worth it.”  Jenna was happy to see Michael Rice up on stage at the conference in his capacity as a member of the Board of Directors. She also happened to bump into another of the potential mentors she was in touch with through Mentor Match, Kathleen McCoy. 

Kathleen McCoy
Kathleen McCoy

Dr. Kathleen McCoy, DNSc, APRN-BC, PMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC, FNP-BC, FAANP is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Alabama. McCoy recalls the introduction, “Here we were, simply chatting away when we realized who we were.” The two have agreed upon a mentor/mentee relationship and plan to speak monthly.

Having taken on several mentees annually since the inception of APNA Mentor Match, Dr. McCoy has become something of an expert on the subject. She will offer a keynote address about mentoring at a charity luncheon this month— an opportunity that came from one of her mentees. McCoy reflects on how the mentor/mentee relationship evolves over time: “As mentees grow, they need us less. True leadership grows leaders. The ebbing of intensity is to be expected, as the mentor/mentee dyad promotes independence, not dependence.”

Rice sees APNA Mentor Match as an opportunity to extend his reach as a mentor. “For mentors, we are often faced with the challenge of leaving behind much of the unwritten knowledge and history that we have gained over time. Frequently, only those who are closest to us in terms of distance are the recipients. The APNA mentor program allows us to reach out and share that knowledge and experience using a national footprint.”   

For now, Jenna has put the idea of a graduate NP program on hold. Instead she has decided to pursue her goal of helping people through marketing what she considers to be one of the greatest health science technology advancements she's seen. However, pursuing an advanced degree in the future is still on the table. No matter what lies ahead, it seems clear that her interactions with her mentors will guide her professional path. McCoy states, “While the time to enter a PMHNP program may not be now, at least Jenna has had the opportunity to meet, greet, and be exposed to the working gears of collaborative relationships and certain aspects of her future academic path.”

Michael Rice is also looking ahead. “While she decided to pause for life for a moment, I have no doubt that at some point, one of the two schools in the area will benefit from her being a student in their program.”  

School aside, Jenna is staying active in other arenas. As a result of attending APNA Annual Conference she agreed to be a chairperson for her local chapter conference. She is looking forward to guidance from her mentor McCoy as she tackles this project. “She’s going to be helping me with my professional development…just not focusing on college right now.”


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