Her Learning Never Stops

During her nearly 30-year career in nursing, Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist & Nurse Practitioner Lucy Johnson has never stopped learning new things.

Developing and exploring her talents and interests on the job, she has earned four college nursing degrees while working full-time caring for patients. And looking back, she wouldn’t do it any other way.

“I’ve always been interested in learning, not because I like academia, but to make sure I’m doing the best job for patients,” says Johnson.

As a clinical nurse specialist with Sanford Behavioral Health, Johnson diagnoses psychiatric and mental health concerns, provides psychotherapy and prescribes medications for patients at clinics in Fargo and Perham.

Finding her calling

She began her career as a “float nurse,” spending much of her time in psychiatry, neurology and pediatrics. She’s been part of an intensive care unit and provided hospice services. Over the years, Johnson discovered that she had an affinity for mental health nursing, which became her career path.

“People are so interesting because we all think differently,” Johnson says. “I get to listen to people and their problems and problem-solve. I like what I’m doing. ”

Johnson advanced her education gradually, first earning her RN and then BSN degrees and then going on to a master’s degree and post master’s certification as an Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist & Nurse Practitioner . The on-going learning helped her reach career goals, but also to make good choices based on what she discovered on the hospital or clinic floor, meeting her practical career needs.

Throughout her years as a nurse, she’s seen the importance of certification, specialized training that can help her to do her job better.

When she worked as an intensive care unit nurse, she got certified in critical care nursing. As a hospice nurse, she maintained a certification specific to her job. Gaining certification specific to psychiatric/mental health services not only helped her better care for patients, but also led to her to get the graduate degree she needed for her current job.

Training and connections

“I’ve had the opportunity to make choices very specific to my interest that I might not have made if I had done the graduate work at the beginning,” says Johnson. “I have been able to make decisions that play to my strengths and what I like to do.”

The connections and information that she has gained with her participation in professional organizations have also been invaluable to her learning and her career path, she says. Her membership in groups, such as the American Nursing Association, North Dakota Nursing Association, American Psychiatric Nursing Association have helped her keep up on the latest information in her professional areas, make contacts with other nurses and continue to learn.

“Nurses have always been interested in preventative care, we work across spectrums, in schools, communities, nursing homes and clinics,” Johnson says. “We have an incredible amount of opportunities in our professional arena.”

Johnson loves what she does, but also makes it a priority to take time taking care of her own personal and mental health needs. She bikes, walks, swims, skis and loves to travel. She enjoys spending time with her husband, who has supported all her educational efforts over the years.

“I work hard, but I play really hard also,” says Johnson. “I take my vacation time. It’s important that if you work and study hard that you also laugh and relax.”

Valued team partners

Johnson says nurses have an incredible ability to affect positive change in today’s health care system. Their direct involvement in care helps them understand clearly what works and what doesn’t work.

Their role is increasingly to be full partners, valued team members working side by side with physicians and other professional colleagues, she says.

“We nurses are the glue, we’re integral in every aspect of care, in figuring out and evaluating what is going on, what the outcome may be,” says Johnson.

Today, Johnson is excited for the major initiative at Sanford Health to integrate behavioral health care as part of primary care services. She sees patients at main medical clinics and is part of a team that is working to utilize a $12 million Health Care Innovation grant from the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid, making ways to make mental health care better available to those with the highest needs.

It’s one more step forward for the mental health field, for patients and for nurses like Johnson.

“Nurses need to be leading the way, practicing to the full extent of our background and training,” Johnson says. “It’s challenging work, but I love it.”

Posted Date: December 2012

Her Learning Never Stops

For close to 30 years, Adult Psychiatric & Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist & Nurse Practitioner Lucy Johnson has sought ways to keep learning just a little more. Find out how a commitment to continuing education has helped her meet her patients' needs and shape the way Sanford Health delivers mental health care.