What Nursing Means at Riggs - Part 1
Original publication date: January 12, 2016
Austen Riggs held a blog competition among staff members where we asked them to write about what nursing means at Riggs. Over the next couple of weeks you will read the two winning blogs. The first blog is written by Louise Posnick, Staff Nurse.
I have been a psychiatric nurse since 1979. I am also a licensed social worker. I have worked both jobs my whole career, but in psychiatric nursing I have done everything from working in a locked unit, to being a campus director for a school for emotionally disturbed adolescents and teenagers, to working on a crisis team, tending to mental health issues (sometimes in the street), to working at the Austen Riggs Center. At Riggs, the open setting with examined living as part of its mission, makes for a one-of-a-kind treatment center that challenges the nurse's mind, both clinically and creatively.
In working, for so many years, in varied venues, I feel I bring something special to the patients and staff at the Center. What nursing at the Austen Riggs Center means to me, that is so different than any other arena I have worked in, are the words "dignity” and “integrity." There are very few places that lend themselves to the mission of the hope of a positive end result that comes from allowing patients to speak their minds, make decisions for themselves, make mistakes without some kind of punishment, and working as a community; sometimes resembling a family.
My role at Riggs is one that, in my mind, helps a patient deal with fears and habits that may have caused damaging isolation. Working with the idea that a patient who cannot be in a room with more than one other person can learn to be in a room talking with other people is phenomenal. If my interactions, or role modeling or respect for a patient’s fear and strengths, can help him/her move forward, one inch, then I am doing my job.
My personal mission is not to tell patients what to do, how to be, or how to think. But rather ask them what they think they want to do, how they would like to be and what they might see as life after treatment. I can be the listener, the person who sits in silence with a person who wants silence, but doesn't want to be alone, or the person who plays ping pong, as a way of being human and connecting to a patient.
The most important role I have is to develop enough trust with patients that they may be willing to speak with me before hurting themselves or come to me after they have injured themselves or just speak with me, in those calm moments when things feel "okay." I offer my humanity and compassion, without judgement or declaration of being all knowing. In this most important role as nurse at the Austen Riggs Center, I offer up myself to be as available as possible, to be honest, and not hide from those terrible moments, when a patient may have done something that is making a statement that they are unsafe, or when they state they are unsafe.
Being a nurse at the Austen Riggs Center means being able to hold a great deal of anxiety gracefully, listen closely, observe, examine your actions as well as those of the patients and be the best psychiatric nurse you can be, in the most unique, dignified and quality setting that I believe exists in the United States. As a nurse in this venue, I can be imperfect, impetuous, silly, serious, creative, fun-loving and scared. All is accepted as part of the job, as well as being human.