Nursing students feel bond with psychiatric patients

Nursing students may not know what to expect upon entering a psychiatric clinical, but Alice Quintana, a senior nursing major, said she wants to assure people that all psychiatric patients are normal, loving people who deserve compassion and care.

Psychiatric nurse didactic and clinical has been a part of the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences since the 1950s, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Lea Montgomery said. Nursing students have their clinical at John Peter Smith Hospital, Huguley Memorial Medical Center and other hospitals in the Fort Worth area, she said.

Montgomery said the nursing program requires its undergraduate students to participate in a psychiatric nursing clinical before graduation.

“A psychiatric nursing facility allows the student to see pathology that we discuss in the concepts course that they may not see in other settings,” Montgomery said.

The nursing students’ responsibilities do not include giving patients medicine. Montgomery said they are instead expected to connect with their patients on a more personal level. Their basic tool is the authentic use of self, which means communication skills are the primary intervention skills, she said.

“The nursing students are not busy doing psychomotor skills such as giving an injection or starting an IV,” Montgomery said. “They’re not focused on doing a skill, so that leaves all this time open to where their hands are not busy and they have to sit with the patient one on one.”

Quintana has already experienced the psychiatric clinical and said her experience was interesting.

“I felt really connected with the patients because you hear about this kind of stuff in movies and in books, but once you’re actually there and see it, it’s really something else and quite enlightening,” Quintana said.

Nursing students who participate in the psychiatric clinical must take certain precautions to protect themselves as well as other patients. Last names on nametags must be covered, and students are not allowed to take pens or wear pants with drawstrings because those may be used as possible weapons, Quintana said.

Some nursing students are beginning their psychiatric clinical this semester.

Junior nursing major Kristin Cowley said she feels safe going to her clinical because professors have informed students that nothing harmful has happened.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing the different actions and reactions of the patients at the psych ward,” Cowley said. “It’ll open my eyes to the different types of mental illness and the people you encounter.”

There are many factors that affect mental illnesses, and once they’re combined with outside stressors and influences, that determines how the patient can deal with a problem, Montgomery said.

She also said that many students are leery before entering the psychiatric hospitals at the beginning of the semester because they base their ideas of mental illness on what they see in the media. 

“When they get to the hospital and they realize that many of the patients are very easy to talk to, they walk away with a sense of well-being and that they’ve done a good job for a day’s work,” Montgomery said.