Nursing is described by those who practice it as one of the most rewarding jobs.
It allows you to care for people. While also engaging in the more clinical aspects of the job, and helping those who are ill to get better.
Depending on the kind of nursing you are interested in training in, these will still be some of the core aspects of the job, but, as is the way, some areas of nursing are more challenging than others. One of the toughest areas is psychiatric nursing.
Psychiatric nurses are trained professionals who work with those who have mental illnesses. They can be in psychiatric wards. Or they may work in community settings. Visiting people in their homes. Or even in community centers. This is a role that requires a degree of flexibility. Not to mention patience. Lots of patience! As you will be placed into difficult situations every day. Which other people may crumble in.
So, with that in mind, what skills are needed to excel in this area? What will make you a great psychiatric nurse?
Empathy And Compassion
The role of a psychiatric nurse is one of compassion and understanding.
On a daily basis, you will be managing vulnerable people. Who may or may not present with challenging behaviors. You will need to be understanding and forgiving to do your job properly and to provide your patients with a high level of care.
In some cases, your patients may not be able to communicate their needs effectively. This may be the case if you are working on a ward for people who have Alzheimer’s. So, you will need to display empathy. While also working with patients and other staff to ensure that their needs are being met.
It is also worth noting here that you will need to not take things personally. The people you will be caring for will have complex needs and may appear aggressive or violent at times. You may even be physically assaulted but this will usually be the result of the illness that the person is suffering from. Or from a place of frustration on their part.
Empathy can also extend to helping the patient take as much control of their situation as possible. If your patients want to sleep in, let them. If they don’t want to go on leave, don’t force them. Your patients are in a tough place right now and will need you to help them to get out of it.
It is a common idea that psychiatric nurses only manage patients who have depression. Or anxiety.
Mental health is not that straightforward and there is a vast range of conditions that your patients may be suffering from. Such as trauma-based illnesses. Like post-traumatic stress disorder. Or, they may be presenting with symptoms that as similar to those of a personality disorder.
Why does this require you to be curious? Because you will need to learn about these disorders and how to manage them in a clinical setting. There are also new disorders being added to diagnostic manuals all the time. For instance, complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Or another trauma-based illness known as dissociative identity disorder. These are all complicated illnesses with different presentations and if you aren’t curious about mental health or psychiatry, you may be hindering your patients’ chances of recovering.
This can be advanced in your own time. Or through additional training courses. In a similar way to standard nursing, psychiatric nurses can undertake additional qualifications. Which will help you to become a more knowledgeable practitioner. Which will help your patients to recover too.
It is also worth noting that mental health is linked to other areas of medicine. Such as neurology and drug addiction. In some cases, your patients may be suffering from a drug-induced illness. Like drug-induced psychosis. In this case, the treatment for them will be very different from regular psychosis, and once again, you will need to know these differences and be aware of which drugs may be the most suitable for helping them to recover. Some nurses train specifically in these areas due to curiosity. Or they simply study these areas due to their own interests. Which they later turn into a qualification for helping patients in this specific area. This shows that curiosity can be a great thing to have in this field.
A key skill that you will need to learn to become a psychiatric nurse is communication. Which sounds easy, but isn’t.
You will need to communicate complex information to your patients. In straightforward English. So, they can understand what the medication they are taking is. Or how it may affect them. You will also need to liaise with psychiatrists and doctors. Even staff at a university, such as at Wilkes University, if you have nursing placements. They will want to know how their students are coping in your ward, and it is your job to tell these teams.
When it comes to undertaking clinical meetings, you will also need to voice your concerns to other mental health professionals clearly and be able to follow up these concerns with evidence using the correct medical terminology.
Then, there are the more complex aspects of communicating with patients. Suppose you have a patient who has psychosis. You will need to be careful with how you word what you say. As well as the tone you say it in. Many people who have psychosis may also have paranoid thoughts and will want reassurance that you are on their side.
Verbal communication is only one area. You will also need to have straight-to-the-point written communication too. After all, you will be required to take notes on how your patients are coping. Which will need to be both clinical and informative.
So, be sure to watch your tone, how you communicate as well as the different communication styles which you will need to master.
It goes without saying that when you work in psychiatric health you need to have thick skin and alongside this thick skin comes self-confidence. Not only in your ability to manage difficult patients, but confidence in your ability to run a ward. To manage psychiatric meetings. To help patients on bad days, and to meet with family members. You will also need to have confidence in your clinical practice. For instance, some patients may refuse to take their medication. Due in part to their own mental health worsening. So, it will be your job with your team to formulate a plan to get the medication into their systems intravenously. Which will require you to be confident that you and your team can pull this off. Without causing additional stress to the patient or causing injury to anyone else. Because, sometimes, patients simply don’t want to take their meds, and you will need to be self-assured that you can protect your team.
The self-confidence required to be a top-notch psychiatric nurse can develop with time, but if you are a person who gets upset by emotive situations, then this may not be the job for you.
It is not just the head nurses who run the ward. Each nurse will usually be allocated patients each day to oversee. As well as support workers and student nurses. So it goes without saying that you also need management skills.
Not only with people either, but you will need to manage your workload and ensure that deadlines are met. For instance, many wards perform monthly audits. For ward managers to independently assess clinical procedures and medication use. This is usually due to occur on a strict schedule, to ensure that only potential issues are caught quickly, and so, alongside all of your other clinical duties, you will also need to undertake additional ones. Which will require you to have excellent management skills.
If you are a psychiatric nurse who is overseeing the training of a student nurse, you will also need to take on additional management skills. In ensuring that the patient you are teaching gets the most from the time on the ward. You will need to liaise with external professionals at the university as well.
Any psychiatric nurse will tell you that each day on the ward is different, and that things can change quickly. Along with being able to manage these aspects, you will also need to be adaptable and flexible to change. This is not a skill that you may walk onto the job with, but hopefully, it will develop the longer you are working as a psychiatric nurse.
Psychiatric nursing is a field in which it is practically impossible to operate as a single unit. On a standard psychiatric ward, there will be 5 to 6 nurses on a single shift. There may be up to 7 student nurses. Along with support workers and other professionals such as occupational therapists. Usually, all of these people will meet at the start of each shift and discuss the day as planned. So, it is important for you to succeed as a psychiatric nurse to be a team player. If your staff is concerned about a patient, listen to them. If there appears to be a staff member who is struggling, reach out to them. Remember, nursing, in general, is not only about caring for those who are the service users or patients. You also need to show compassion to your fellow nurses and staff. Especially in a psychiatric setting. Where the patients are more likely to be unpredictable and may be more likely to cause emotional or physical harm to your colleagues.
If you are a community-based psychiatric nurse, then you will need to liaise and communicate with other people who you may not be working directly with, but this will also fall under the area of teamwork. As you are all working towards the same goal which is to get the patients better. In a community setting, it is more likely that you will be working with social workers, general doctors, or nurses who work outside of hospital environments as well as family members.
A Sense of Humor
It may seem odd to consider a sense of humor an essential skill for being a psychiatric nurse, but many people who have been in this area of work for years state that this has been a key skill to develop. Which has helped them to adapt and has helped their patients too.
If most psychiatric nurses were honest, daily they will see a range of unusual behavior. Which initially, may shock them or cause them to become upset, but when you get to know your patients, it is important to keep a good sense of humor. Especially when they are having a bad day and may go from being your best friend to no longer liking you. This may sound similar to self-confidence and in some ways it is, but being able to laugh with your fellow staff members and patients can reduce your stress levels, and make your job feel more worthwhile. That is not to say you should laugh at patients when they are in distress, but rather, focus on the funny sides of interactions and try to keep your eye open for anything that is concerning.
Psychiatric nursing is an area that is high in demand, and it is an area that can be incredibly rewarding for many people. Especially those who are empathetic. As mentioned in this article, the majority of skills are learned on the job, but it is vital to be aware of them as you step into this role or choose it when you begin studying nursing. As psychiatric nursing is so different from any other type of nursing role. So it can come as a bit of a shock to those who are unprepared for it.
Be sure to brush up on your communication skills. Laugh a bit more and have curiosity about the area in which you will be working in.