Childhood experiences lead student to a career in mental health nursing

Brandon Collings was introduced to nursing as a 10-year-old, after his father was seriously injured in a car accident.

He remembers that it was the nurses who briefed the family when they arrived at the hospital in the aftermath of the accident and also after each one of what seemed like a lifelong surgery to Collings. The nurses were there to update them on his father’s condition, to support Collings’ father as he was learning to walk again and to offer a supportive ear when Collings and his mother vented their feelings.

“Every day, the nurses will not only provide great care for my father, but also for my mother and me,” he said. “Even as a child, it was clear to me that these nurses are specialists, caring and inspiring.”

This experience would later motivate Collings to earn an undergraduate degree in nursing, which he did at SUNY Plattsburgh. There, thanks to his professors and a supportive learning environment, he gained a solid foundation in nursing and as a student leader.

Collings is now building on this foundation, combining his love of nursing with an interest in psychiatry, slowly approaching his dream of becoming a mental health care provider. In his sophomore year at Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing and Health Sciences, Collings will graduate in May 2022 with a Master of Nursing degree in a specialty psychiatric mental health nurse (PMHNP).

While it was his father’s accident that brought nursing into Collings’ life, it was his mother who sparked his interest in mental health care. She was a substance abuse counselor and advocate for the mental health community, often helping Collings with outreach programs in his hometown, where he found himself fascinated by the work.

“The one thing we all have in common as human beings is the conscious mind. Being able to explore that, discover what makes others move and help them ease suffering—perhaps even their very core—is very exciting to me,”

Like most students in Decker’s master’s-level nursing programs, Collings continues to work as a nurse practitioner. Previously he worked in the inpatient psychiatry unit, but now works in the telemetry unit at Lourdes Hospital.

Additionally, as part of required clinical hours, Collings provides mental health care in the Decker Student Health Services Center clinic on campus. Supervised by Ramona Mazzeo, MD, a psychiatrist and director of psychiatric services at the university, Collings takes patient intakes and completes initial patient evaluations, collaborates with physician and patient to develop a treatment plan, and then sees patients for their follow-up appointments.

“Brandon has been a great addition to our team,” said Matzio. “His experience working as a nurse really makes him very capable of clinical interactions right from the start.”

Mazzeo added that PMHNP students help the Decker Student Health Services Clinic provide students and patients with a clinical psychological experience with continuity, in which student nurse practitioners can follow patients for one to two semesters.

“The [PMHNP] Having the students here helps Binghamton students who see them as patients get care quickly and easily on campus through the student health benefits,” Mazzio said. [our] Students are everywhere.”

Collings also worked with Mary Muscari, associate professor of nursing and PMHNP program coordinator at Decker College, on a repository of online stress management resources for undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Available on Brightspace (the university’s learning management platform), the goal is to provide students with web resources on a variety of topics.

“Brandon was part of the site brainstorming process and was particularly helpful in building the time management department by creating apps that students can use to be better organised,” Muscari said.

The web resource is an offshoot of Collings’ capstone project, “Social Media as a Health Promotion Vector in Today’s Era of Mental Health,” a synthesis of existing research on the topic. It also provides insights into how psychiatric nurses use social media to provide information on topics such as bipolar disorders and depression or highlight local mental health services.

Collings posited that people use social media as a primary source of information in today’s society, so why not use it as a way to provide accurate information about mental health?

“I am always happy for students to come up with new ideas for graduation papers, and his ideas were original,” Muscari said. “However, this is an important topic given both the popularity of social media and the amount of misinformation related to it.”

After graduating from Binghamton, Collings hopes to enter the Psychiatric Practitioner Fellowship Program at Upstate Medical University. This initiative provides advanced and intensive training in psychiatric care for psychiatric nurse practitioners and residents. It also provides students with the opportunity to spend time in several sub-specialties of psychology.

However, Collings already knows where he wants to focus: addiction psychiatry. He enjoys working with these patients and feels that this fits his getting to the point approach.

“I’ve always had the mindset of what it really is, and I’ve noticed that most people I work with who have substance use disorders really appreciate this approach,” he said. “I’m not the type to walk into a room in a white coat and say, ‘Hey, I’m Mr. Collings, from Team Yada Yada.'” I’d rather go in and say, ‘Hey, I’m Brandon. this is what I do. Let’s talk about it. “

Collings believes that people talking openly about mental health is one of the few positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People have been isolated and what some people have been suffering from in secret and in silence for years,” he said. “It is a blessing because people are more aware of what they are feeling and thinking. They are more than okay with being okay, and they are asking for help.”

But, with more people accessing mental health care, what was a great need for providers before the pandemic is now an acute shortage. Collings hopes that the recent spotlight on mental health and the awareness that psychiatric mental health nursing is, in essence, simply helping people who are struggling, will propel people toward the profession.

“The pandemic has certainly made us aware of the need for more readily available, accessible and acceptable mental health resources to help with the effects of this catastrophic crisis,” Muscari said. This is especially true for marginalized populations, rural residents, frontline workers and our essential workers. However, it has also shown us the need to promote better mental health. Many people lack the basic coping skills needed to deal with daily stress, not to mention disaster—another reason why I think Brandon’s coronation is so important. “

For those in health care and other allied professions, Collings offers some advice: “Get something outside of your profession that you really love and care about. You can’t be there for others if you don’t have something for yourself.”

Selling outlets? Being outdoors, playing and listening to music.

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