Career Choice and Longevity in U.S. Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 4:20 PM

Cynthia A. Diefenbeck, PsyD, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC
Robbi K. Alexander, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC
School of Nursing, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA

In the United States (US), demand for mental health services continues to increase as federal initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act and mental health parity improve access to and coverage for mental health services.  Psychiatric-mental health nurses are uniquely qualified to bolster mental health treatment across the continuum of care, but relative few nurses enter and remain in the specialty. Prior research has focused on the unpopularity of psychiatric nursing as a career choice for nursing students.  The purpose of the study was to explore the experiences of those nurses who did choose psychiatric nursing careers and have remained in the specialty area.  Descriptive phenomenology was employed to examine how nurses entered and remained in the specialty.  In a face-to-face interview, eight registered nurses described their experiences with psychiatric nursing as a student, their entry into psychiatric nursing, and factors related to their longevity in the specialty. Giorgi’s Existential Phenomenological Research Method was employed to analyze the interview data.  Three themes emerged related to career choice:  Interest developed prior to or while in nursing school, Personal relevance, and Validation of potential.  Three themes emerged related to retention:  Overcoming stereotypes to develop career pride, Positive team dynamics, and Remaining hopeful.  Nurse educators play an important role in identifying talent, validating capability, enhancing interest, and increasing confidence to pursue a psychiatric nursing career, while nursing administrators and clinicians play a key role in retention.  Findings also stimulate pertinent questions surrounding the long-term viability of the psychiatric-mental health nursing specialty in the US as well as the nation’s model of generalist entry-to-practice model of nursing education.