Virginia psychiatric nurses association honors professor with annual award in her name

Assistant Professor of Nursing Irma Mahone '80 was honored by the Virginia Association of Community Psychiatric Nurses (VACPN), an organization that she co-founded, with the creation of an annual Founders Award in her name at the association banquet on April 20. She is location coordinator for Eastern Mennonite University's RN-BSN program. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Irma Mahone was honored by the Virginia Association of Community Psychiatric Nurses (VACPN) for her career and role as co-founder of the organization with the creation of an annual Founders Award in her name at the association banquet on April 20.

Mahone is an assistant professor and RN-BS location coordinator in the Department of Nursing at Eastern Mennonite University. A 1980 nursing graduate of EMU, she has a MS in psychiatric nursing and a PhD in nursing from the University of Virginia.

“We chose to honor Irma on our 30th anniversary because she is always looking to advance shared communication within the community psychiatric setting to better assist our nurses and clients,” said Jennifer Phelps, VACPN co-president. “Without Irma’s foresight to start this organization we simply would not exist.”

Mahone was working as a psychiatric nurse in a community health clinic when she felt the need to network with colleagues. “It takes a unique person to like the challenges of community psychiatric nursing,” Mahone said. “The nurses who like it really like it. There’s a real camaraderie and respect when these nurses come together.”

Psychiatric nurses diagnose and assess patients and their mental state, educating and counseling families and patients on methods of coping with mental health symptoms and administering medication.

Introduced to psychiatric nursing field while an EMU student

Mahone first encountered psychiatric nursing at EMU when she did a community psychiatric practicum at a local public mental health clinic. “There was a dear old psychiatrist who took me under his wing and showed me just why he loved working with persons with serious mental illness,” Mahone said. “I was hooked on community psychiatric nursing after that.”

Mental health and substance abuse diagnoses are growing and depression is predicted to be the leading medical disorder by 2020, according to Phelps.

“Community psychiatric nursing is a specialty, and not many nurses know what they do or the demands put upon them,” Phelps said. “Our clients range from first psychotic episodes, bi-polar disorder, substance addiction, intellectual disabilities, from children to adults.”

The job outlook for psychiatric nurses shows a projected growth rate of 26 percent by 2020, according to Nurse Journal.

“I believe persons who have serious mental illness need nursing interventions in the community,” Mahone said. “Their biggest challenge is learning how to adjust to life in the community following inpatient treatment of an acute episode Psychiatric nursing is helping them recover and find meaning in life.”

Mahone also worked as a nurse researcher at the University of Virginia for ten years. She focused on shared decision making between provider and patient in mental health.

“A patient is more likely to follow through [in taking medication, etc.] if they had a say in creating the treatment plan,” Mahone said. “It’s a consensus-building approach, and the end result is a treatment plan where the patient is more likely to get better. It’s a rapidly growing concept in healthcare.”

Joined education field in March

In March Mahone began working as EMU’s RN- BS program in Harrisonburg. It is an accelerated evening program for adults who already have an RN and want to get a BS in Nursing.

“It’s a nationwide trend to make the BS the entry level for the RN,” Mahone said. “It’s a gap EMU is helping to fill.”

The National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice has recommended that at least two-thirds of the basic nurse workforce hold baccalaureate (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) or higher degrees in nursing.

Mahone’s academic and professional expertise provides RN-BSN students with an important perspective.

“Persons with serious mental illness have many needs and really do benefit from nursing interventions when they are in recovery and trying to find their way to a meaningful and purposeful life in the community,” Mahone said. “Community psychiatric nursing is very gratifying.”

Mahone also teaches a course in ethics in the RN-BS program and a health policy course in the graduate nursing program.

“We are grateful for her community mental health experience and expertise which is certainly a priority in our world today and will be an important aspect to share with our students,” said Linda Witmer, director of the RN-BS in Nursing Program. “Her community organization experience brings strength to our program and she brings a strong interest in the area of peace and justice which fits well with the mission and vision of EMU.”

The award, which will nominate a nurse every year, also comes with a donation to the organization of his/her choice. Mahone will be donating hers to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“I’m humbled and honored to have this award established in my name,” Mahone said. In her remarks following the presentation of the award, Mahone stressed that “it takes a village” and acknowledged that it was the psychiatric nurses throughout the state who have kept this organization alive and flourishing for 30 years.