The Mental Health Side of Nursing from our Nurse of the Week Jenn Howard!

Jenn Nurse of the Week 10.22

My name is Jenn and I currently work as a Lead Nurse for a PACT program. I have a BA in sociology, which I got while working in a group home, my first introduction into psych. I really enjoyed working the field, particularly being creative in finding solutions between the patients and their doctors, so, I went back for a BS in nursing shortly thereafter. I’ve now worked in mental health for almost 10 years and really enjoy its diversity and challenges. So, a little about me, my husband and I have had a very busy and exciting summer, we welcomed our first baby, a daughter, at the end of June and then moved into a new house.

Name: (and age)  

Jenn Howard and I’m 30 years old.

Years working as a nurse:

 I’ve worked as a nurse for 4 years.

Current Position:  

My current position is the Lead Nurse with a PACT program.

What brought you into the nursing profession?

What brought me into the nursing profession is a desire to help people with mental illness. While working at a group home in college, I heard patients talk about their experiences in state hospitals, most of whom were forced to take medications against their will. In my current position, one of the things that I strive for is an open dialogue about medication management between my patients, myself and their doctor. I hope to rebuild the trust between my patients and their experience with the healthcare profession.
Where did you get your nursing degree?
I have both a BA and BS from Umass Amherst.

First RN/LPN position (and how you got it… we’ve all been there!):

My first RN position was in pediatric home care after getting a recommendation by my coworker. I worked with one baby very closely and, even though I’ve moved to psych, I’ve had the pleasure of staying in contact with her family and watching her grow.

Random fact /hobby:

A random fact about me is that I was captain of my water polo team in high school and received a swimming scholarship to college.

Biggest career challenge and how you’ve overcome it (or how you are currently working to overcome!):

One of the biggest challenges that I face in my career is the stigma against those with mental illness.This is something that has improved recently, as individuals and celebrities with mental illness have become more prevalent in the media. Although this is very encouraging, the general public and funding have yet to catch up.

Any projects on your desk right now?

One of the projects that I’m working on now is reading “Hallucinations” by Oliver Sacks. I bought several of his books a few years ago and have been (slowly) reading them. Of note, his book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” is fascinating!

What item is most useful to you as a nurse? (What piece of equipment or clothing could you NOT do your job without?)

Being a psych nurse, I don’t have a specific item that I can’t do my job without as most of my assessments are done by observing and listening. That being said, a good hair tie and some soap and water can really help any nurse.

Do you have a fondest memory or favorite nursing experience?

Some of my favorite moments as a nurse are being able to connect with patients in order to help them achieve their medical goals. I love being creative in order to help my patients reach a goal. For example, one of my patients had refused to see a primary care doctor for several years. We formed a relationship of mutual trust and respect before she agreed to see a primary care doctor. We spoke for several weeks about what she would and would not like to do at the appointment, I coordinated with the primary care doctor to ensure that this was possible and she was able to have her first annual physical in almost a decade.

What one piece of advice would you pass on to a new nurse? (first year working)

A piece of advice that I would pass on to a new nurse would be to listen to your patients. This is particularly true in psych, but all patients say things that we need to hear. Whether it be a patient talking about a family history of cancer or disclosing past traumas, all help you paint a picture of the person in front of you and how you can best help them.


Jenn has a nursing profile on—reach out to her directly to ask her any questions about her experiences!