2019 Psychiatric Nurse of the Year

Susie Adams“Susie Adams is a visionary who tirelessly implements innovative solutions and develops programs with the goal of improving care for patients,” says Dawn Vanderhoef, who nominated Susie for this award. Even solely by the numbers, Susie Adams’s accomplishments are impressive. Through education and continuing mentorship, she has directly influenced generations of practicing psychiatric-mental health nurses throughout the country. She has presented and published her work more than 100 times and has consulted with 10 organizations to improve psychiatric-mental health nursing programs in six states. But Susie is more than numbers – her passion for community engagement and psychiatric-mental health nursing have made her a beacon for those joining the profession and those who seek mental health care. In recognition of Susie’s career-long efforts to improve the lives of those with mental health and substance use needs, strengthen communities, and inspire new nurses, she is the 2019 APNA Psychiatric Nurse of the Year.

Susie remembers when she first knew she wanted to be a psychiatric-mental health nurse: when she conducted weekly visits as a student nurse with a woman with a history of schizoaffective disorder. The woman was 7 months pregnant and living on her own in a basement apartment with little more than running water and a bed. “I saw her weekly for the last month and a half before she delivered the baby – a little girl,” Susie recalls. “I learned so much from her – her determination, her resilience, her desire to be a good parent to keep that baby is what motivated her. She stayed on her medication, she kept every appointment for the baby and for herself, and as a young nursing student my heart went out to her. And I thought – these are the people I want to support.”

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Community engagement

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Use our individual and collective voices to impact change.”

How She Connects:
“Listening to someone’s story and hearing what their passion is.”

As the faculty scholar for community-engaged behavioral health at Vanderbilt University, Susie’s work centers on her community research and partnership with community agencies like The Next Door (TND), a recovery program for pregnant women with alcohol and substance use disorders. “Dr. Adams demonstrated visionary collaboration to develop evidence-based assessment and interventions which should lead to greater success to recovery and greater mental health in this population,” says Michael Rice. “Perhaps most important is her impact on women who have lived or are currently living at TND…it is clear that she has had more than a sterile professional impact on the lives of these women.” For Susie, the connection with these women is what being a psychiatric-mental health nurse is all about. “People with mental health or substance use problems have the same hopes, desires, and dreams that everybody else does,” she says. “If we focus on helping people have productive, meaningful lives and being part of a community and giving them a purpose – that to me gives me more satisfaction than anything.”

Susie is also a pioneer of the development of the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner role. “Before the first PMHNP exam was developed, Susie revised the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing curriculum to include NP content, a visionary before her time,” says Vanderhoef. “Grounded in tradition and reading the tea leaves, she revised the curriculum to embrace psychotherapy while adding the 3 Ps, never losing sight of the role of the PMH APRN.” Susie continues to shape what it means to be a PMH nurse through mentorship, encouraging the next generation of nurses to be active as leaders. “We need to be active not just in our local healthcare systems, but to use our individual and collective voices to impact change,” she says. “Our prison systems are the largest de facto mental health system in the country. There is so much to be done in terms of improving access to mental health and primary care services in the prisons and whenever possible, diverting offenders with mental health and substance use disorders to community-based care.”

Susie is an exceptional psychiatric-mental health nursing leader, consistently championing the role as a means to increase access to mental health care. “Susie consistently demonstrates that her leadership is both visionary and pragmatic,” says Rice. “[She has an] ability to connect the best practices of past evidence-based findings to the development of policy for the future.” While Susie won’t be able to join us in person at the APNA 33rd Annual Conference, she encourages those who will be there to celebrate themselves in her stead. “In both mental health care and the well-being of the patients and families we serve, celebrate what we do,” says Susie. “It makes a difference.”

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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.