Kathy JohnsonKathy Johnson, MSN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC
2016 Award for Excellence in Leadership - APRN

Kathy Johnson’s approach to leadership is one that emphasizes mentorship and personal connections between psychiatric-mental health nurses to encourage lifelong learning. “Psychiatric nursing is about connecting. I know that without my mentors, I would not have had the opportunities I’ve had and continue to have,” she says. For her efforts to encourage nurse collaboration and her dedication to mentorship, Johnson is this year’s recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“First and foremost, recognize that your willingness to enter into a respectful, honest relationship with a patient is the greatest thing you have to offer that person.”

Favorite Color:
Sage green

In her private practice, Johnson finds opportunities to mentor other nurses using innovative learning techniques. “I tell my students that the best programs teach you the science of nursing and teach you about the art of nursing. It is only with time and experience – and by making mistakes – that one learns the art of nursing, and it is our mentors who help us with this contextual leaning.” Johnson’s mentorship follows a similar method to peer supervision groups. She begins with a one-on-one conversation with her mentees via phone or video conferencing, discussing where the mentee is in their career as well as their needs and goals. From there, Johnson provides support as needed on everything from patient care plans to discussing trends in nursing.

As for what first drew Johnson to the art and science of psychiatric-mental health nursing, her answer is surprising: “I had a handsome, older cousin who was a psychologist, so I began reading psychology books in middle school,” she says. “I soon learned that beyond trying to impress my cousin – who didn’t notice! – I loved the topic. Because I was also interested in becoming a nurse, my high school psychology teacher informed me that I could combine both.” Of course she cites her many mentors as what pushed her to take on leadership roles within psychiatric-mental health nursing. “I have always had nursing – and non-nursing – mentors and it was through several of those mentoring relationships that I discovered my passion for teaching. The fact that one of my closest mentors and friends nominated me for this award is very special.”

Johnson began mentoring at the local level in 2005 as a member of the APNA California Chapter.  “Kathy took the initiative to begin reaching out to others new in our profession,” says Marlene Nadler-Moodie, who nominated Johnson. “As an Area Representative, she dedicated many hours in arranging professional meetings in her community.” Johnson’s professional meetings were widely attended, and attendees left feeling more connected with their community. Her enthusiasm for chapter events developed into a passion for chapter leadership: Johnson has served as both President and Member-at-Large in the California Chapter Board of Directors. As Chapter President, Johnson led efforts to establish the Ann Wilkinson Psychotherapy Award, an award established in memory of Ann Wilkinson to honor her commitment to the role of the nurse psychotherapist in private practice, and continued mentoring chapter members.

On the national level, Johnson participates in several APNA councils as a way to further her passion for collaboration.  She currently serves as the co-chair of the APRN Council, and has participated on the Buprenorphine Committee, the Education Council, and in the Chapter Summit hosted by APNA National in 2012. She sees this participation as a way of giving back to those who mentored her by mentoring others. “My role with the APRN Council and with Mentor Match have been opportunities to teach and to pay forward what has been given to me by so many individuals,” says Johnson.

Johnson’s enthusiasm for leadership extends beyond one-on-one mentorship to driving the profession forward through sharing of her expertise. For this year’s Annual Conference, Johnson helped design a full day course on psychotherapy to support novice psychiatric-mental health nurses to stay abreast of developments in psychotherapy strategies.

Given her enthusiasm for collaboration, Johnson’s advice to future nurses is no surprise: “First and foremost, recognize that your willingness to enter into a respectful, honest relationship with a patient is the greatest thing you have to offer that person.” Jeannine Loucks, one of Johnson’s nominators, elaborates: “Kathy is an exceptional leader...dedicated to our profession, organization, and making a difference in how care is delivered to those impacted by mental health issues." Her dedication to bettering the future of psychiatric-mental health nursing through leading by example is laudable, and we look forward to celebrating with her at the APNA 30th Annual Conference in Hartford, Connecticut.

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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.