A message from Simone
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Many health care professionals are concerned that, at a time of increased patient acuity, few registered nurses are opting for mental health nursing as a career choice. Since student nurses' undergraduate experiences -- and their perceptions of these experiences -- may well contribute to the problem, it is essential that we make every effort to welcome students to mental health wards. We use the voice of [Simone], a second year student, to illustrate how one nurse can make a very special difference to a student's experience and perception of mental health nursing, during her psychiatric mental health practicum. In my second year, after a single class orientation on mental health nursing, I arrived on the first day of my acute hospital psychiatric ward placement feeling completely unprepared and overwhelmed. In contrast to traditional psychiatric rotations that focus exclusively on mental health, many nursing education programs today offer an integrated curriculum. In addition to attending a clinical placement site two days a week, I was also enrolled in required medical-surgical nursing classes and optional university credit subjects. The academic demands on my time away from the unit were stringent and there seemed to be few resources that addressed mental health nursing. As their mental health rotation progresses, students see a sophisticated interdisciplinary team co-operating intensely for the welfare of the patient. They come to understand that street clothes can help break down barriers and that assessing affect is also a critical "vital sign." They see how skilled therapeutic use of self and suicide assessments are very serious matters that could mean the difference between a patient's tentative first steps toward insightful mental health or a debilitating, even fatal, outcome. By the end of their clinical placement, students' language often includes a lexicon of new terms drawn from the fields of medicine and counselling, as well as nursing. Their days become so full that they struggle to find time to chart. Invariably, they leave their psychiatric mental health practicum with a deep respect for their patients and powerful new insights into the persistent stigma and marginalization associated with mental illness.