Psychiatric Nursing: Differences from Registered Nursing

Although training for registered nursing and registered psychiatric nursing begins in the same way, the differences begin to show themselves later in training and through the practicums in various facilities.

Bonnie Kalk, a long-time registered psychiatric nurse, describes some of the differences between the two types of nursing. The first that she mentions is that psychiatric nurses have to be able to accept people for who they are. Some of the patients that psychiatric nurses see will not change with treatment. While all nurses have to show this characteristic of acceptance to some extent, Kalk maintains that a psychiatric nurse does see some "quirky" behaviour and so this acceptance is of the utmost importance. This is why, she explains, that most nurses, if given a choice, would often choose another type of nursing. Psychiatric nursing is really quite a challenging profession because of the personalities that encounter. have to be dealt with.

Psychiatric nurses also have much autonomy and quick decisions often need to be made. Mistakes can be made and this is always a challenge to the professional.

Mental health also is not always on the top of budget lists and thus working conditions are not always the best. However, as Kalk mentions, it is not so much the working conditions but the people that count. The patients are the most important part of the profession.

Bonnie points out that her psychiatric nursing was like living in a small community since many of the patients where there for a very long time, and “at least the patients felt like they belonged and that they had their jobs and fit in, so to speakThe one that I mentioned in the other documentary always wore a Boy Scout uniform.  His job was to greet people at the hospital when they came, and people tell the story of when Tommy Douglas came to visit the hospital, and Winston was in his Boy Scout uniform, shorts and whatnot, and said hello to him and asked him his name, and he said, well, I'm Tommy Douglas, the Premier of the Province.  Winston said, ‘well, that's okay, he say, there's people here think they're Napoleon’, he said, you can just come in anyway. So it was like a therapeutic community.”

Bonnie also pointed out thatwe had a lot of autonomy as psych nurses where I worked. The challenge was really to be able to make quick decisions and do what needed doing right then and there, and that teaches you because you make mistakes and then you learn from them.  That's how it seemed to me, that you just had to decide what you were going to do and that -- that's -- that can be quite a challenge too.  And I'm sure that that's the same for all nurses; that they have to function in life and death situations many, many times, and they have to decide like right now what they're going to do”

“Well, I think the first thing that comes to my mind is you have to be sort of suited to be excepting and be able to except people just as they are.  Now, I'm not saying the other -- that all nurses don't do that, but you do run into some fairly quirky behaviors in people that are, you know, don't know who they are and where they are”
Spacer Video Clip