Mental Health Our People

The Registered Psychiatric Nurse: empathy in stressful moments

Registered Psychiatric Nurse Carmen Hanson. Photo by Brian Smith, Providence Health Care

National Nursing Week in Canada runs until May 14. At Providence Health Care, close to 3,000 nurses, representing a broad range of roles and disciplines across numerous sites care for hundreds of patients and residents every day. To mark this week, we’re profiling five of the many nurses who play such a vital role in the well-being of those Providence serves. This week we introduced Clinical Nurse Specialist PJ Matras, Registered Nurse Liji Mathew and Nurse Practitioner Alina Steinberg. Today, meet Carmen Hanson.

As someone who enjoys caring for others and is fascinated by the intricate connection of the brain and the human body, Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN) Carmen Hanson knows she’s picked the right profession for herself.

“No one day is ever the same as the next,” Hanson muses.

The variety of people she works with, and the diversity of situations that she faces on a regular basis, is something she continues to marvel at.

“I think people would be surprised by how mental health affects all people, all ages, all races,” she explains. “It’s one of the many reasons that our team here at St. Paul’s Hospital goes above and beyond to take a non-judgmental, caring and diplomatic approach to our patients and the work.”

Using empathy amid stress

The work can be intense but she knows empathy makes all the difference. “I’ve learned to treat others as I want to be treated and strive to think critically in the most stressful times in order to have the best chance of success.”

Hanson has also indulged her interest in variety over the past decade by taking on different roles throughout St Paul’s.

“I’ve been a bed-side nurse on four different units since 2012 and I’ve also dabbled in managerial and nurse educator roles during this time,” she says. “Psychiatric nursing continues to be a career I’m interested in and learning from.”

This ongoing clinical learning comes on top of a bachelor’s degree and annual in-nursing education as RPNs like Hanson work hard to stay abreast of the latest evidence-based practice for everything from medication and communication to how data can improve health care for those who use drugs.

“The team I work with is amazing,” she says, “and being able to help others and learn about their different stories with the support of a strong social justice community here at St. Paul’s is very fulfilling.”

Hanson takes pride in being an RPN and credits events such as the 7 pm cheer during the COVID pandemic and saving a patient’s life and having them thank her afterwards as career highlights that inspire and motivate her.

As a skilled communicator, she’s learned over the years how to redirect and de-escalate patient behaviors, as well as how best to speak to family members who may be struggling to come to grips with difficult behaviours of a loved one.

“Consoling family members and friends of a patient, empathizing with them and educating them about the challenges their loved one is facing in their life is a big part of what we do as RPNs,” says Hanson.

“That’s why I truly believe that psychiatric nursing truly is at the heart of the nursing profession.”