News & Events

Worcester Telegram Profiles MNA/NNU Psychiatric Nurse Deborah Renholm

In the Monday Business Section, the Telegram and Gazette presents “On the Job” – interviews with people from a wide variety of professions.  Today’s “On the Job” features MNA member, Deborah Renholm, a registered nurse at Worcester State Hospital.

On the job: Deborah A. Renholm, registered Nurse 2, Worcester State Hospital, Forensic Unit 1A

Deborah A. Renholm, a psychiatric nurse at Worcester State Hospital, relaxes at home in her living room. (JOHN FERRARONE)

Age: 53
Time in job: 7 years
Resident of: Charlton
Originally from: Ashland
Family: Married, three children
What is your specific job?

“I work on the forensic unit. We help them with coping skills. Patients are typically sent to the forensic unit because they have involvement with the court system. The nurses’ evaluation of a forensic patient typically is monitoring their behaviors, documenting them into our notes. They’re typically sent to the hospital because the court has a sense that they don’t understand the court system or they don’t know why they’re in the courtroom.”

How is psychiatric nursing different from caring for people with physical ailments?

“Most psychiatric patients don’t like to be touched. So you have to approach in different ways.

“It may be more of empathizing and listening to a psychiatric client. Helping them to cope with their situation, offering information, groups or activities. A very last resort would be medication.”

Have you always wanted to be a nurse?

“Yes, since I was a little girl.”

What training do you have or do you need to be a psychiatric nurse?

“You can be an LPN (licensed practical nurse) or an RN (registered nurse). I’ve gone from my LPN all the way up to my master’s in public health nursing at Worcester State University.”

Why did you choose psychiatric nursing?

“I’ve been equal amounts of time in long-term care and med-surg nursing. I got to a point that I wanted an alterative. You get burned out. It’s too physical. That alternative ended up being addictions.”

Isn’t psychiatric nursing even more stressful than physical nursing?

“You get more used it, or you get wiser. It doesn’t feel that way. I don’t know. Maybe that’s where I was meant to be.

“I also worked at a methadone clinic, and I liked that, too. And then I worked at the women’s prison for two years. Somebody had told me about a position in infectious disease case management at MCI Framingham. That was the alternative position I always dreamed of. It was the mental health patients at MCI Framingham that led me to work in a psychiatric hospital.

“I wondered why there were so many psychiatric patients floating around the medical unit. I wanted to know more about it, more about taking care of them, or why they weren’t taken care of. That’s why I started to get my master’s in public health and community nursing.”

What do you think of the new Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital?

“It’s great. It’s a beautiful hospital. Most people are just worried if we’re going to get around it OK because there’s so much space to work with. We’re looking forward to it.

“It’s a huge challenge. … We did a run-through of a check system to figure out how many staff and nurses that we might need.”

How has nursing changed since you started?

“We don’t have white caps and uniforms, is one.”

What’s the hardest thing you have to do as a nurse?

“To take a break for yourself. Trying to help the sickest person, and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing that you can do for them. It makes me feel sad, helpless.”

What’s the most touching thing you’ve witnessed as a nurse?

“There‘s usually something touching almost every time you go into work. A client will say some little thing that you never expected and it can just make your shift.

“One of the sickest patients that I’ve known, this client has quite a history of psychotic and violent behaviors. He’s going up and down the hallway, banging and screaming. I was in the med room on this unit and he was getting closer to the med room door. And I was wondering, ‘Oh, boy, if he comes through that door, where am I going to go?’ He stayed at the door and got his meds and went off and went up and down the hallway again and came back a second time and stood at the doorway and all of a sudden he said, ‘You’re scared. Are you OK?’ I was, like, I can’t believe he just said that.”

Tell us about your most memorable patient?

“One of the prison girls, one of the HIV clients. She was psychotic, too. She wanted to be good. She took in all my teaching, my counseling, and she wanted to do the right thing.”

What’s the biggest drawback about being a nurse?

“There aren’t any. It’s mostly opportunity.”

If you could do any other type of job, what would it be?

“A teacher. When I was little, I used to tell my mother I was going to be a teacher. But when you’re a nurse you’re always teaching, too — patients, nurses, mental health workers. I had a home gift basket business for a while. I’d go back to that if I had to.”

Compiled by reporter Lee Hammel