Childhood experiences lead student to career in mental health nursing

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Brandon Collings was introduced to nursing at the age of 10, after his father was seriously injured in a car crash.

It was the nurses, he recalls, who informed the family upon their arrival at the hospital after the accident and also after each of what seemed to Collings a lifetime of surgeries. Nurses were there to keep them updated on her father’s condition, to support Collings’ father as he relearned to walk, and to lend a listening ear when Collings and his mother expressed their emotions.

“Every day the nurses provided fantastic care not only to my dad, but also to my mom and me,” he said. “Even as a child, it was clear to me that these nurses were professional, caring and inspiring. ”

This experience would later motivate Collings to pursue an undergraduate degree in nursing, which he did at SUNY Plattsburgh. There, thanks to his teachers and the supportive learning environment, he gained a solid foundation in nursing and as a student leader.

Collings now builds on that foundation, combining his love of nursing and interest in psychiatry, and one step closer to his dream of becoming a mental health care provider. In her second year at Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Binghamton University, Collings will graduate in May 2022 with a Masters of Nursing in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) specialization.

While it was her father’s accident that brought nursing care to Collings’ life, it was her mother who sparked her interest in mental health care. She was an addictions counselor and community mental health advocate, and Collings often helped with outreach programs in her hometown, finding herself fascinated by the job.

“The one thing we all have in common as humans is the conscious mind. Being able to explore that, find out what makes others tick and help them alleviate suffering – perhaps deep down in their being – is very interesting to me, ”he said.

Like most students in Decker’s Masters of Nursing programs, Collings continues to work as a nurse. He previously worked in a hospital psychiatric unit, but now works in a telemetry unit at the Lourdes hospital.

Additionally, as part of his required clinical hours, Collings provides mental health care at the Decker Student Health Services Center on campus. Supervised by Ramona Mazzeo, MD, psychiatrist and director of psychiatric services at the University, Collings performs patient intake and completes initial patient assessments, works with the physician and patient to develop a treatment plan, and then sees patients for their follow-up appointments.

“Brandon has been a great addition to our team,” said Mazzeo. “His experience working as a nurse already makes him very proficient in clinical interactions from the start. “

Mazzeo added that PMHNP students help Decker Student Health Services Clinic provide student-patients with a clinical psychiatric experience with continuity, as student nurse practitioners can follow patients for one to two semesters.

“The [PMHNP] Having students here helps the Binghamton students they see as patients access care quickly and easily on campus through their student health benefits, ”said Mazzeo. “It’s a win-win for [our] students all around.

Collings also worked with Mary Muscari, associate professor of nursing and PMHNP program coordinator at Decker College, on an online stress management resource repository for undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Available on Brightspace (the University’s learning management platform), the goal is to provide students with web resources on a variety of topics.

“Brandon was part of the brainstorming process for the website and was particularly helpful in creating the time management section by coming up with apps that students can use to be better organized,” Muscari said.

The web resource is an offshoot of the Collings Synthesis Project, “Social Media as a Health Promotion Vehicle in the Current Age of Mental Health,” which is a synthesis of existing research on the topic. It also provides information on how psychiatric nurse practitioners can use social media to feature information on topics such as bipolar disorder and depression or to highlight local mental health services.

Collings argued that people use social media as the primary source of information in today’s society, so why not use it as a vehicle to deliver accurate mental health information?

“I am always delighted when students come up with new ideas for summary papers, and his was original,” said Muscari. “However, this is an important topic given both the popularity of social media and the amount of misinformation about it.”

After graduating from Binghamton, Collings hopes to enter the Psychiatric Nursing Fellowship program at Northern State Medical University. This initiative provides advanced and intensive training in psychiatric care to nurse practitioners and residents in psychiatry. It also offers students the opportunity to spend time in several psychiatric subspecialties.

Collings, however, already knows where he wants to focus: addiction psychiatry. He enjoys working with this patient population and thinks it suits his straightforward approach.

“I have always had the mindset that the real recognizes the real, and I have found that most people I work with who struggle with substance use disorders appreciate really this approach, ”he said. “I’m not the type to walk into a room in a white coat and say, ‘Hi, I’m Mr. Collings from the yada yada team. I’d rather come in and say, ‘Hey, I’m Brandon. That’s what I do. Let’s talk about it.'”

Collings believes that people who speak openly about mental health are one of the few positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People were isolated and it brought out what some people have been suffering from secretly and silently for years,” he said. “It’s a blessing because people are more aware of how they feel and think. They agree more with disagreeing, and they ask for help.

But, as more people seek mental health care, what was a significant need for providers before the pandemic is now a severe shortage. Collings hopes the recent mental health spotlight and the realization that psychiatric mental health nursing is, at its core, just helping those in difficulty, will lead people into the profession.

“The pandemic has certainly made us aware of the need for more readily available, accessible and acceptable mental health resources to help cope with the effects of this catastrophic crisis,” said Muscari. “This is especially true for marginalized populations, rural populations and our frontline and essential workers. However, it also showed us the need for better promotion of mental health in general. Far too many people lack the basic skills to deal with everyday stressors, let alone disaster – another reason I think Brandon’s cornerstone is so important. “

For those working in healthcare and other helping professions, Collings has a tip: “Have something outside of your profession that you really love and care about. You can’t be there for others if you don’t have something for yourself.

Its outlets? Being outside, playing and listening to music.


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