Sara Fechner, Shirley Smoyak, and faculty mentor Dr. Wolfe
Sara Fechner, Shirley Smoyak, and faculty mentor Dr. Wolfe

On the morning I was supposed to leave for Indianapolis, I woke up both nervous and excited. Like a typical twenty something, as soon as I turned off my alarm I checked the text messages on my phone only to find that my flight had been canceled. This of course, provoked anxiety and a series of web searches only to find that it had been rescheduled. Crisis averted, or so I thought. Unfortunately the mid-October day I had chosen to leave for my trip turned out to overlap with a Nor’easter rain storm. My flight was delayed an hour…then two hours, so I had the option to switch my flight. This switch worked out well – I was then on the same flight as my faculty mentor, Dr. Barbara Wolfe. We had dinner together and decided to wait for our 8:45 pm flight together. Well… our poor luck had not yet run out when our flight was postponed once again to leave at 11:50 pm, with an ETA in Indianapolis around 3:00 am, to then go to the hotel and wake up early  to start at 8:00 am with the Keynote speaker.

First thing Thursday was a bit of a blur given my sleep deprivation. Throughout the day however I was able to connect with Dr. Wolfe again, as well as Dr. Danny Willis, Pam Terreri and BC Ph.D student Karen Jennings; so we had quite the crew representing Boston College! I had the opportunity to see Dr. Willis present his research, which was wonderful and fun to see him present outside of our classroom!

During my few days at APNA, I attended educational sessions, keynote addresses, panel discussions, and the New England Chapter meeting. Most meaningful were the connections I made and people I met. The professors from BC all introduced me to their former colleagues, professors and mentors. This was really inspiring, as I got to see how people can shape one’s career and how  those connections live on for many years.

There was no shortage of impressive individuals to be acquainted with! I had the opportunity to meet other distinguished professionals in psychiatric-mental health such as: Shirley Smoyak, the president of the APNA, many past presidents (a list of which includes my faculty mentor, Dr. Wolfe!), and the editor of the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.  In addition, I got to know nurses and nurse practitioners from New England, Louisiana, Washington, DC, New York, and all over the country. Each had a unique story and contributions to the field of psychiatric-mental health nursing. They were distinguished in what they had done in their careers.

A unifying feature of these nurse leaders was their willingness to share information and encouragement. This conference is the only place where I have been asked “have you considered getting your Ph.D. yet?”  with  just 7 months left in my Masters, instead of just being congratulated. The conference provided a wonderful environment for someone young and budding into the profession, because I was  surrounded by experienced individuals looking to encourage me and impart pearls of wisdom they would have liked to have known earlier in their careers.

Besides meeting incredible people, I learned about issues all over the country in nursing. In some states the fight for nurse practitioner autonomy has become more prevalent. However, I was most struck by the stories I heard from Louisiana. Since Hurricane Katrina, many mental health providers did not return after the storm. This left the Louisiana population in dire need of care. Since then, political issues have led to the closure of many more mental health facilities. The lasting effects of the storm affected the mental health of the people and there are not enough resources to give them the care they need.

Being surrounded by individuals who are truly passionate about what they do is invigorating to a young nurse and future nurse practitioner. I was struck by the work of APNA members in areas of research, practice, and advocacy. Having so many distinguished role models in the field, and at home at Boston College, I feel truly privileged to be able to do what I’m doing with my career. The lasting impact is feeling empowered to work towards my goals and be a good nurse leader. As graduation is quickly approaching, I need to critically reflect on just what I want my impact to be. My passion for psychiatric-mental health nursing was strengthened even further, and I look forward to next year’s APNA conference!