The chance to learn in the nation’s largest academic psychiatric hospital campus made Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston the top choice for Idalia Viard, BSN, RN.
Viard started her studies to become a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) at New York University. When she and her fiancé began thinking about a future family, she researched programs available in less-crowded locales.
“I heard really good things about the program at Cizik School of Nursing, and it’s affordable,” said Viard, who transferred to the school when she moved to Houston in January 2021.
Her timing turned out to be perfect. She and classmate Nneoma “Cindy” Pustejovsky completed the psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner specialty program on the PMHNP track of a Master of Science in Nursing degree and will graduate from the school in December 2023. They were among the first group to experience clinical rotations at the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center at UTHealth Houston, which opened in March 2022.
The state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital and the nearby UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center make up the UTHealth Houston Behavioral Sciences Campus with a combined total of 538 beds. The new facility is owned by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and operated by UTHealth Houston. It is also supported in part by a $25 million commitment to the university from the John S. Dunn Foundation.
The center offers a continuum of comprehensive services, and Pustejovsky got a close look at how the process starts. Her clinical rotation in the spring of 2023 built on her professional experience as an intake nurse at a behavioral health hospital.
“The great thing about the Dunn Center is that it’s a teaching hospital,” said Pustejovsky, who previously earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing through the RN-BSN education program pathway at the nursing school. “I got great feedback from the attending physician, and he was very welcoming of questions.”
Viard completed her rotation during the Summer 2023 semester, and she benefited from the rare opportunity to work in a competency restoration unit. There, patients who have been accused of crimes but deemed incompetent to stand trial are admitted for three to six months for intensive treatment.
“I don’t think I would get to see this in any other setting,” Viard said. “Unfortunately, when someone gets involved with the legal system, there aren’t that many resources for them.”
Viard hopes to work in a small practice after graduation and she continues to seek a variety of experiences in mental health care — something she advises other nurses to do if they are considering stepping up to be a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner.
Pustejovsky currently works at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and hopes to advance her career there after completing her degree.
“We have a huge population of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and a large subset of female veterans, many of whom haven’t received any type of medication or the support they need,” Pustejovsky said. She hopes to work with and advocate for women, who must often wait longer for admission since the patient population is overwhelmingly male.
She agrees that anyone contemplating becoming a nurse in the psychiatric and mental health field should first seek out opportunities to work in psychiatric nursing and build strong coping skills and a good support system.
“If you are passionate about mental health, that passion will help push you through to be successful in this program,” Pustejovsky said.
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