Published on May 10th, 2017 | from CAMH
Career Aspirations: A nursing student’s experience in forensic mental health
By Eugenia Anane, Nursing Student
Growing up, I always had an interest in forensics and mental health. My interests first sparked when I was eight years old, sitting beside my father as we binge-watched forensic homicide shows. In fact, I still binge on those shows today. My interest in both areas grew more when my sister was diagnosed with both bipolar disease and agoraphobia in 2007. By the time I had entered into highschool, my career options switched from wanting to become a homicide detective to a psychiatrist, and then finally, a forensic/mental health nurse. Flash-forward to post-secondary, I had a few opportunities to volunteer in these areas. Two of my most memorable experiences include volunteering in a Haitian prison in 2014, and being placed in a retirement home that catered only to dementia clients, last year.
My deep interest in mental health seemed to be of no purpose, however, as I stared at the words “2017 Placement: CAMH-Forensics Unit 3-3” across my laptop screen in December. Undertaking this mental health placement left me with mixed emotions initially. A huge part of me was elated to know that I had been given the opportunity to work in my areas of interest in Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital. Another part of me experienced anxiety which stemmed from my little experience in working in this specific environment. Moreover, I didn’t know what to expect of the staff on Unit 3-3. I wondered if they would welcome me with open arms or shut me off completely. As every nursing student knows, placement experiences are influenced by the staff’s attitude towards you.
Fortunately for me, my experience at CAMH was one to really brag about. Immediately on my first day, my anxieties diminished and I was able to ease into placement. I was quickly impressed by the openness and professionalism of the team (as well as the diversity)! I met so many nurses of various backgrounds with much experience who were so willing to guide me and push me through my last year of school. Over the period I felt that my confidence had grown both on a clinically professional level and personally. Thanks to staff on Unit 3-3, I was challenged regularly to reflect on my practice, determine areas of development, and be proactive in my development as a professional. I am specifically grateful to my preceptor, Jackie Williamson, who provided me with many opportunities to take on the role of a mental health nurse. Her patience and passion to teach,as well as her willingness to help, made me feel as if I was a part of the team. Moreover, I would like to yield my gratitude to Boris Bard, the nursing manager on Unit 3-3, for making room for me despite his busy schedule. Through his sharing of knowledge, skills, and experience, my consolidation was made complete. My confidence increased through his continual encouragement and opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone, like presenting in front of the whole unit- three times!
All in all, this placement has been a huge period of professional and personal growth and I have been more than privileged to be placed in a hospital that strives to treat patients with dignity and respect despite their circumstances. It was often stressed to us on 3-3 the importance of working from a recovery-based model. That is, working with clients to move beyond viewing themselves as an individual with a psychiatric disorder and encouraging them to reclaim a positive sense of self. It is often stated in conversations around the topic of mental health nursing that nurses find it difficult to work with clients due to their perceived lack of hope. What my experience here has taught me is that while hope is sometimes difficult to find, nurses play a significant role in their ability to help patients generate hope. I was given many opportunities, myself, to establish therapeutic relationships with clients and see them beyond their disorders. I was always satisfied knowing that I was helping to create a positive and open environment for individuals who are constantly challenged by stereotypes and social stigmas that stem from misconceptions of mental health. In addition to me being a helping-hand to the clients on 3-3, they too, have become a driving force in my life. Their sustained motivation and hard work has had an influence on me- it was always encouraging to see them reach their goal of being transferred from Unit 3-3 to the General Forensic Unit. They’ve also helped me to become more resilient even through life’s toughest battles. They’ve helped me to understand mental health in a different light and the impact of being robbed of the opportunities that define a quality of life. Finally through them, I have been able to understand my own sister’s disorder better and care for her more deeply than ever before.
If I could tell the eight-year old me anything, I would tell her to continue to embrace her desires and pursue her dreams relentlessly. I would have never imagined that my obsession with forensic shows and mental health would become a career aspiration, and this experience has truly inspired me to pursue my dreams of becoming a psychiatric nurse even more. Eventually, I too, would love to mentor children who may find an interest in mental health/ forensics, and just like my eight-year old self, inspire them to dream fearlessly.