Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner empowers patients, destigmatizes mental health care

May 17, 2024
Man in a suit stands below a building sign that says Institute of Psychiatry.
Josh Moran Jimenez loves being able to help patients struggling with mental health challenges. Photo by Sarah Pack

Flashing through his mind like a movie reel, the memories come fast for Josh Moran Jimenez, R.N.: a relative with schizophrenia, the family friend in college who died by suicide, peers who struggled with their mental health. More resources, less stigma and perhaps most importantly, easy access to a health care professional specifically trained to help – how else could their lives have been changed for the better?

For Moran Jimenez, helping to provide the answers has become an integral part of his lifelong journey.

Patient empowerment

On May 18, Moran Jimenez will graduate from MUSC’s College of Nursing (CON) with a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP), specializing in psychiatric mental health. The milestone caps quite a year for Moran Jimenez, who was named MUSC Health-Charleston’s Certified Nurse of the Year in March for his exceptional, collaborative work as an assistant nurse manager at the Institute of Psychiatry (IOP). The achievement is all the more significant considering that Moran Jimenez entered the nursing profession only five years ago. In some ways, however, Moran Jimenez has been preparing his whole life for his calling.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, he recognized early on the fulfillment found in helping others and believed his path would lead to medical school. Once in college, though, his work as a mentor sparked a new passion. “I started as a pre-med student but switched to psychology because when I became a resident assistant, the first-year students who were on my floor would come in and talk with me,” shared Moran Jimenez. “I would check in on them, and I was taking a psychology class and thought, ‘You know what, I really like this psychology stuff.’” 

Armed with an undergrad degree in psychology, he headed south to Charleston to explore job prospects, but none allowed him to make any significant difference in people’s lives. His aunt was the one who finally landed on the solution: mental health nurse. Within the year, he was enrolled in CON’s accelerated bachelor of science (ABSN) degree program, an intense 16-month, four-semester curriculum that partners closely with MUSC’s academic health system. The rewarding experience not only introduced Moran Jimenez to his profession but also to his future colleagues at IOP, where he began working soon after graduation. 

“While we see our patients during acute crisis stabilization, it’s still a good feeling to know you are making a difference in someone else’s life, even if for a short time,” he said. “Mental health does not discriminate, and many of us have known someone personally, either a family member, friend or classmate who has died by suicide.” For Moran Jimenez, his work offers the privilege of providing support during one of the worst times in someone’s life. 

“We want to make people feel safe and build a relationship of trust to encourage them to focus on their hopes for coming to the hospital,” he noted. “What are they wanting to change in their lives, and how can we help reinforce that positive change? We can’t just fix everything in their lives for them, but if we can plant seeds by asking reflective questions about what steps they need to take, it empowers our patients and makes their care more patient-centered.”

Peer mentorship

It wasn’t long into his nursing career before Moran Jimenez recognized the value in continuing his education and soon entered CON’s DNP program. “Working in psych mental health on the inpatient unit and seeing the team rounding felt full circle because during the ABSN program, they shared with us the opportunity to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner, and I wanted to learn how I could advocate for nursing and for our patients,” he said. As part of the curriculum, students learn to assess problems in their work environments as opportunities for improvement, and Moran Jimenez immediately identified an area of need.

“I was involved with my shared governance council and saw an opportunity where we could improve care for our patients by reducing seclusion rates by going through the process of an assessment form,” he said. “How can we identify what a patient’s triggers are or what patterns of escalation occur so that we can be more proactive? It’s a patient-centered approach of knowing what the patient says agitates them and what they prefer for de-escalation or how they prefer to regulate their emotions.”

Implemented in October, the quality improvement project not only gained the support of unit champions, whom Moran Jimenez helped to mentor in his role as project lead, but also was recognized in his MUSC Certified Nurse of the Year nomination. 

Moran Jimenez was honored for his commitment to reducing workplace violence toward care team members, supporting health equity initiatives and pursuing personal development that directly affects the quality of his patient care. Over the last five years, Moran Jimenez has achieved multiple certifications in his specialty, including Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality, Certified Addiction Registered Nurse. He’s also Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse–board certified and Nurse Executive–board certified. Last fall, he obtained a graduate certificate in Health Informatics while still in the DNP program and working full time.

“As a student, Josh exemplified what it means to be an outstanding learner,” asserted CON faculty member Hannah Robidoux, DNP, APRN. “He was driven by a passion and willingness to learn to ensure his future success and continual growth in the field of mental health. He already is and will continue to grow as a visionary leader in the field, making transformative advancements in mental health care.”

Lifting the stigma 

Embarking on the next stage of his career, Moran Jimenez wants to remain focused on where he can do the most good. As a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, he has more options to increase patient access to mental health services and shape the profession. He also looks forward to helping to develop new avenues of advocacy to reduce the stigma associated with mental health care.

“I feel like each person is on a journey in their life, and we all are impacted by different psychosocial stressors,” he emphasized. “We need to recognize the connection of mental health with people’s physical health and how to foster healthy coping skills as well as normalize seeking treatment for mental health symptoms. It’s normal to say, ‘I need a day off because I have to go to the dentist,’ and it’s also OK if somebody needs a day off because they have to go to their counselor. People shouldn’t feel guilt or shame surrounding it.” 

For Moran Jimenez, nurses play a central role in normalizing and propagating that message. “We’re helping to reduce the stigma. We’re bridging the gap in access to care, and we’re recruiting and mentoring nurses in the specialty of psychiatric mental health,” he noted. “I feel very fortunate being here at MUSC because of the passion and the care."

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