Dawn Vanderhoef, PhD, DNP, RN, PMHNP/CNS-BC
2015 Award for Excellence in Education

For Dawn Vanderhoef, PhD, DNP, RN, PMHNP/CNS-BC, her lifelong sense of compassion fueled her decision to be a psychiatric-mental health nurse. “What’s kept me in the field is the passion for helping individuals when they are at their most vulnerable point and helping them achieve wellness,” she says. “To me, it’s really exciting to see the ‘aha’ moments or the sparkle in students’ eyes when they find their passion to work with psychiatric patients.” For her dedication to preparing the next generation of psychiatric-mental health nurses, APNA is pleased to award Dawn Vanderhoef the 2015 Award for Academic Excellence.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Technology and Education

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Within psychiatric nursing, there are many areas of focus, so you should find your passion and become an expert in working in that area. Psychiatric nursing is caring for other people, so really think about how you care for yourself so that you can best care for patients.”

Favorite Disney movie:
Finding Nemo

Vanderhoef’s innovative teaching methods emphasize the incorporation of technology into the classroom. “Dr. Vanderhoef is an early adopter, embracing opportunities to create active learning environments and using technology as a tool to enhance learning,” says Sandra S. Seidel in one of Vanderhoef’s recommendations. Throughout her career, Vanderhoef has taken steps to use the latest technology to engage students in the learning process, including using digital books and online drug guides in her teaching. She was instrumental in the development of the first online psychiatric clinical log at Vanderbilt University, where she works as an assistant professor. This log allows professors to track student progress throughout their program of study and creates a digital portfolio of work that students can take to future employers. Vanderhoef also created an online discussion board with the intent of fostering a sense of community as well as encouraging group learning. In addition, Vanderhoef led the integration of Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) in Vanderbilt’s PMHNP curriculum for competency based evaluations, which builds on existing case-based scenarios within the diagnostic interviewing course. This provides students with more thorough training for real-world scenarios that they may encounter once they begin nursing. “I’ve always kind of been a geek and interested in how technology can make teaching and learning more meaningful,” Vanderhoef says. “I think technology is an excellent tool that is underused in patients with severe mental illness to get them engaged in the treatment process. It starts with the student, to invigorate in them not only how they can use the technology for their learning but also how they can engage the patient through its use but also track clinical outcomes.”

Vanderhoef’s nominators speak highly of her efforts to keep students involved and at the cutting edge of psychiatric-mental health nursing practice. “[Dawn] continuously strives to enrich student learning experiences while mentoring junior and adjunct faculty in their classroom teaching, clinical preceptorship, and clinical supervision skills,” says Susie Adams, who nominated Vanderhoef. Seidel adds, “[Dawn] is a passionate care provider who uses experience to spark interest and an invigorating quest for knowledge in students at all levels; from pre-licensure to doctorate. Her approach to nursing education is student centric; being a compassionate student advocate while upholding highest ethical and scholarly standards. She is adept at breaking down blocks of knowledge into logical segments that students can readily grasp.”

For Vanderhoef, receiving this award has both humbled and reinvigorated her. “First I was shocked that I was selected because I know there are many folks in APNA who have a wealth of experience in psychiatric education,” she says. “It really keeps my passion for what I’m doing, and what I am doing is making a difference in preparing future psychiatric nurses who will have the ability to influence not only direct care, but also healthcare policy.”  Join us at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort this October to celebrate her commitment to incorporating innovative methods into the classroom – like the titular character in her favorite Disney film, Finding Nemo, Vanderhoef isn’t afraid to venture out of familiar waters to explore new and exciting possibilities. 


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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.