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Meet Riggs’ New Chief Nursing Officer: Cheryl Puntil

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Cheryl Puntil, MN, APRN, PMH-CNS, BC, is the chief nursing officer at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA.A national leader in psychiatric nursing, Cheryl Puntil has never lost touch with her bedside manner.

“This is everything I wanted—the culmination of my career,” says Cheryl Puntil about her new role as Chief Nursing Officer at the Austen Riggs Center. She arrived in Stockbridge in late summer, prepared by a long and distinguished career in psychiatric nursing and confident that “all of my experiences brought me to this.” 

Puntil’s professional career includes more than 20 years at UCLA Medical Center’s Resnick Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, several years as nursing instructor at Hawaii Community College, and extensive consulting, speaking, and publishing. A passionate advocate for nursing professionalism, she is widely acknowledged for her experience and expertise in geriatric, medical, and adult psychiatric nursing, all of which have served her well in caring for those with diagnoses of depression, dementia, and delirium, as well as those at risk for suicide.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association honored Puntil with its Award for Distinguished Service in 2017, noting in particular her work developing suicide-prevention competencies for psychiatric/mental health nurses. 

Her fascination with mental health developed early. “I was always intrigued by the patient’s background and psyche, by what made them tick, what motivated them, their thoughts and feelings,” Puntil explains. Even as a high school student, she recalls “hanging out with people who talked a lot about people’s development and psychosocial aspects of themselves.” She also recalls hearing early on about Austen Riggs “as a place people go to fundamentally get better.” 

When it came to nursing study, she started out in the psychiatric unit and immediately felt: “OK, I get this.” She earned her BSN at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona, MN, during which she trained at the Mayo Clinic on an open psychiatric unit. Puntil then went on to earn her MN in psychiatric mental health nursing at UCLA and certificate in psychodynamic psychotherapy at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute.

As Chief Nursing Officer at Riggs, Puntil is responsible for planning, directing, and evaluating psychiatric nursing care, leading a staff of approximately 20 nurses and mental health workers who work in close collaboration with other clinicians to ensure the highest quality patient care. 

She is right at home with the collaborative approach. “Nurses are always in the middle of the team and the patient,” she notes. They work “at the bedside,” talking with the patient, listening, understanding, building therapeutic relationships, monitoring responses to medication, and communicating with the rest of the team about what they learn.

While leading the nursing staff, Puntil will also be working with patients directly, stating, “That’s where I like to be, taking care of patients.”

And, she says, the best way for her to “learn the complexities of nursing at Riggs, understand the nursing staff and how they work, and witnessing their collaborative relationships with other disciplines—is by actually doing it myself.” 

“I always appreciated leaders who were hands-on, visible, engaged, and who made concerted efforts to partner with the staff they lead,” she says, adding that “it’s the best way for me to accurately represent the voice of nursing at Riggs.”  

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