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Students part of pilot behavioral health rotation


Story by Rachel McCoy Public Relations and Outreach Specialist at CMHA-CEI


“Nursing students, like me, read about mental health crisis and behavioral health scenarios in our books, but you never know how you are going to feel or react when you see it first hand,” explains Erica Snyder, a nursing student in the Michigan State University College of Nursing. “Working in the emergency rooms and other areas in the hospital, we experience and work with a lot of individuals who are experiencing a behavioral health issue in some way. Now, we have the knowledge on how to handle certain situations. No matter where we go in the health field, behavioral health in our patients is something that we will always experience.”

On September 5th, 2023, Erica and seven other MSU nursing students embarked on a pioneering “pilot” behavioral health rotation at CMHA-CEI. After receiving new hire orientation and Recipient Rights training, the students spent one week each in various units working alongside CMHA-CEI nursing staff to learn more about behavioral health while advancing their nursing skillset. Rotations included Adult Crisis Services, Bridges Crisis Unit, The Recovery Center, Psychiatric Services Clinic, Older Adult Services, Families Forward Medication Clinic, and Outreach Case Management Services. 

Christian McCaslin, Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS) Crisis Services Programs Coordinator, emphasizes the significance of such early experiences for nursing students. “The MSU Nursing Cohort Program gives students an experience that they may not have had early on in their medical careers. Having an “inside look” into a specific field gave them an opportunity to see a potential career path that they may have never considered before.” 

One “stand out” experience for Erica was working alongside Dr. Tonia Webster, a fully Licensed Psychologist & Counselor in Crisis Services. Erica witnessed Dr. Webster expertly navigate a de-escalation. Erica admired Dr. Webster's adeptness at obtaining crucial information while ensuring the individual felt at ease. After the encounter, they debriefed to discuss the multiple de-escalation techniques utilized and to review therapeutic options that helped foster communication with the individual to better understand their situation. There are different types of de-escalation techniques, but understanding how and when to use physical, regulated, and emotional types over others presented a practical learning opportunity beyond textbook scenarios. “You read these situations in books, but you never know how you are going to feel or react when you see it firsthand. The experience is different from what you had envisioned. Having a psychologist on hand to explain things to me was really helpful,” explains Erica.

For Dr. Webster, employing de-escalation techniques is routine. “Erica gleaned a lot from this experience because she was able to witness de-escalation techniques in action. It is crucial to be able to effectively obtain information without judgement and stigma, while making the client comfortable. The overall experience gave the students an opportunity to understand our work here and the different options out there for people struggling. Overall, I found the MSU nursing students to be professional and eager to understand the processes here.” 

Erica reflects on her time at CMHA-CEI; “before, I knew it was important, but I was not aware of the multiple layers that there are in behavioral health. When we learn about behavioral health, you have an idea of how you will experience it in the field. This experience gave me an understanding of the “real world” and situations may not be exactly like they are in the books. Everyone has different experiences with behavioral health in their profession, from acute care to chronically ill patients. With the knowledge that I now have, I hope this experience will improve my skills in nursing as a whole.”

Stacy Fox-Elster, Healthcare Integration Supervisor at CMHA-CEI, highlights the benefits of this partnership with MSU.  “During the planning stages for the Crisis Stabilization Center, CMHA-CEI identified the need to increase our nursing capacity. This was a way to create a nursing staff “pipeline.” Future nurses, who may decide not to pursue a behavioral health career, could greatly benefit from the experience of learning about community services that are available, how to interact with someone in a mental health crisis, and breaking down stigma of those who receive behavioral health services.” 

CMHA-CEI's inaugural semester collaborating with the MSU Nursing Cohort Program proved successful. Plans for another cohort in Spring 2024 aim to expand the number of participating nursing students by Fall 2024.