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Announcing the 2023 APNA Annual Awards Recipients

Announcing the 2023 APNA Annual Awards Recipients

April 2023

Seven psychiatric-mental health nurses exemplify the capabilities of this profession to improve mental health outcomes through prevention, education, and science-based treatment.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) has announced the selection of seven highly accomplished nurses in the field of psychiatric-mental health (PMH) as recipients of the 2023 APNA Annual Awards.

The APNA Annual Awards recognize APNA members who demonstrate excellence in psychiatric-mental health nursing practice, education, leadership, community efforts, and more. Recipients include nurses positively impacting rural populations, individuals experiencing trauma, service members abroad, and thousands of healthcare professionals as nursing educators.

“The APNA Annual Awards set exceptional psychiatric-mental health nurses in the spotlight as we applaud their remarkable contributions to mental health care,” said APNA President Chizimuzo (Zim) Okoli, PhD, MPH, APRN, PMHNP-BC, NCTTP, FAAN. “These seven nurses with rich histories of service and innovation represent the hope-giving care that psychiatric-mental health nurses provide in varied settings to diverse populations every day.”

Nominated by their colleagues, the 2023 APNA Annual Awards Recipients were chosen for this honor by a committee of their peers. These nurses will be honored at the APNA 37th Annual Conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, October 4-7, 2023.

The 2023 APNA Annual Award recipients:

Beth PhoenixBethany Phoenix, PhD, RN, CNS, FAAN, Professor at University of California San Francisco, is the APNA Psychiatric Nurse of the Year. With the workforce shortage sending mental health professionals into crisis-mode, Phoenix has maintained focus on solutions, proving an effective and determined change-agent strengthening the number and skill-level of PMH nurses. By helping to articulate the PMH nurse role, designing education programs to prepare nurses to serve, and carving a space for them to advocate and be acknowledged as central contributors to the nation’s mental health care workforce, she has enhanced the professional lives of PMH nurses and those in their care. She recognizes gaps in mental health services and proactively creates new avenues for treatment through funding and innovative care models. Her mentorship, research, publication, and leadership efforts have significantly expanded the profile and reach of PMH nursing.

Mary Ann NihartMary Ann Nihart, MA, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC, Associate Director Patient Care Services / Nurse Executive, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Distinguished Service. With a career encompassing teaching, curriculum design, and advocating for staff needs, Nihart consistently seeks not only to advance the profession of psychiatric-mental health nursing, but also to improve the patient experience. An enthusiastic PMH nursing ambassador, Nihart infuses her fellow nurses with a passion for the field that is palpable. Her record of service is another indicator of her dedication. On a state level, she served multiple terms as the President of the APNA California Chapter, where she expanded membership and enriched annual chapter conferences. She served as APNA President in 2016 and currently serves as Chair of the APNA Clinical Psychopharmacology Institute Program Committee and the advisory panels for both the APNA Practice Council and APNA Administrative Council. Nihart is also a frequent presenter at APNA conferences and goes a step beyond to encourage those she mentors to follow in her footsteps, by serving, presenting, and handing down their knowledge to strengthen the practice of PMH nursing.

Kate Pfeiffer, DNP, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC, Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program, Emory University School of Nursing, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Education. Pfeiffer led nursing students in immersive experiences focused on substance use disorders in populations experiencing negative social determinants of health. She also led sessions in community resilience model (CRM) to manage anxiety and stress helping students, faculty and providers cope with the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathleen T. McCoy DNSc, APRN-BC, PMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC, FNP-BC, FAANP, Associate Professor, University of South Alabama, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN. She has actively mentored Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice students, leading them through her teaching, clinical work, and professional service to achieve the highest levels of their profession. She brings her clinical experiences to nursing students in APRN programs to promote holistic care, evidence-based practice, and culturally congruent practice.

Leigh CombsLeigh Combs, BA, RN, BHCMII, Director of Nursing for Green Country Behavioral Health in Oklahoma, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – RN. Combs’ spirit of innovation has resulted in improved care access for patients in a rural area. By initiating a mobile medication clinic, Combs has made it possible for providers bring care directly to patients who have difficulty travelling. She has continued to manage the expansion of services in the area with a new larger building and increased staffing.

Joy Lauerer, DNP, APRN, PMHCNS, BC, Associate Professor, Medical University of South Carolina, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – APRN. Lauerer is piloting an innovative program to provide preventative mental health interventions at an urban homeless shelter. She also precepts PMH-DNP students to provide resiliency skills for trauma, parenting information, and assessment for mental health and substance use disorder for mothers. In addition, she coordinates primary pediatric care for the infants as a crucial part of this program.

Francis UgohMaj. Frances Ugoh, RN, International Health Specialist, United States Air Force, Surgeon General for Europe, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – RN. Ugoh provides psychiatric care to US service men and women in Europe and Africa, and US partners and allies. The first psychiatric-mental health nurse to serve as an International Health Specialist (IHS) for the United States Surgeon General for Europe, he promotes mental health care to special forces, medics, and members of government agencies throughout the United Nations, Europe, and Africa including conducting thousands of assessments to assure our airmen are mentally fit to deploy.