Tess Judge-EllisTeresa "Tess" Judge-Ellis, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, FAANP
2018 Award for Excellence in Leadership - APRN

As a psychiatric-mental health nurse leader, Tess Judge-Ellis knows the importance of breaking down barriers. “Informed by Hildegard Peplau, our job is to help our patients be empowered to have their own voice,” she explains. “To do that, you have to continue psychiatry across the entire spectrum wherever patients are encountered.” Tess equips psychiatric-mental health nurses with the skills they need to provide mental health care in all settings and across the lifespan. For her work, she is the 2018 recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN.

Based in Iowa, Tess is a private practice psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, a family nurse practitioner, and Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Iowa. Despite limited resources in her rural setting, Tess has implemented a variety of methods to expand access to care, promote diversity, and encourage the integration of mental health across care settings. “Tess has served as a role model for nurse practitioners, demonstrating that a rich career with a variety of roles is achievable in a rural state,” says Margaret “Peg” Fitzgerald, one of Tess’s nominators. “To improve mental health by ensuring access to appropriate, quality mental health services, she has developed innovative approaches to better prepare NPs.” Because of the role she plays to connect mental health to all forms of care, Tess says, “I feel like a bridge sometimes… But all nurses are grounded in relationship-based theories. Nursing is the lived experience of patients, not just their cure or prescription. When we own that, especially for those vulnerable populations, we truly make a difference.”

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Mental health across the lifespan

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Practice leadership and always keep the patient voice heard at every level of care."

How She Makes Every Day Extraordinary:
“I have a daily contemplative prayer practice. I sit in my red room with two cats on my lap and a cup of coffee and I meditate and pray.”

“Tess has found innovative ways to improve and impact the education of APRNs practicing in rural settings including curricular changes, skills, workshops, and preceptor experiences,” says Kathleen “Kitty” Buckwalter, Tess’s nominator. “Her particular passion is educating non-psychiatric-mental health students and clinicians on mental health issues in many care settings.” Tess’s efforts have brought change to the curriculum of the University of Iowa: a course she designed on lifespan approaches to mental health issues across settings is now part of the core curriculum for all NP students. She has brought in more than 30 nurse practitioners from around Iowa to serve as preceptors for the College of Nursing and facilitated the cross-cultural exchange of nurses from Iowa, Mexico, and Canada.

Tess’s motivation for continually advocating for psychiatric-mental health nursing primarily comes from three sources. The first is her experience as a family practice and psychiatric-mental health nurse, which she says helps inform her holistic view of health. “I started out as a family nurse practitioner, but I think I always was a psych nurse,” she says. “The dual preparation and my years of experience allow me to teach nurses how to be more effective and to own their capacity.”

Secondly, Tess models her instruction in part based on her experience with her mentors Kitty and Peg, who nominated her for this award. Tess says, “[They] are tremendous examples that the more nurses know, the more power we have. The more we can own that knowledge, the more effective we are.”

Finally, Tess’s care is inspired by her own lived experience and spirituality. “Like one in 4 of us, I have a mental illness and have experienced the stigma. My strong faith calls me to seek the divine in myself and in others.” When asked how she incorporates the self-care of finding the divine into each day, Tess elaborates, “I have a daily contemplative prayer practice. I sit in my red room with two cats on my lap and a cup of coffee and I meditate and pray.” This practice helps Tess lead with compassion, and the impact is seen both in those she educates and those to whom she provides care.

We look forward to celebrating Tess’s work and achievements at the APNA 32nd Annual Conference this October 24-27 in Columbus, Ohio.

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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.