Interview with Dr. Ruby Martinez, RN, PhD, CS

Interview with Dr. Ruby Martinez, RN, PhD, CS

About Dr. Ruby Martinez |  Her Career |  Psychiatric Nursing - Careers/Jobs & Education |  Nursing Administration - Careers/Jobs & Education |  Other Questions |  Closing Remarks


About Dr. Ruby Martinez

Dr. Ruby Martinez is an Assistant Professor-CT and Director of the Student Services and Diversity Office at the CU School of Nursing where she teaches psychiatric nursing, conducts research on and practices with vulnerable populations. Dr. Martinez earned her PhD from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver in 1995. Other graduate degrees from the University of Colorado include a MS in Nursing Administration and Post Masters Certificate in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing. Professional practice includes both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care. Dr. Martinez was the Assistant Nursing Services Administrator for over 12 years at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan before joining the faculty at the University of Colorado. Dr. Martinez is a board certified clinical nurse specialist in adult mental health nursing.

Recent experience includes practice in a school based primary health clinic that was staffed by advanced practice nurses serving primarily uninsured people. Dr. Martinez currently serves as a mental health consultant and practitioner for the Miracles Program, a substance abuse treatment program in Denver designed to help women on probation and those recently released from incarceration. As a researcher, Dr. Martinez has studied Latino health, attitudes toward people who abuse substances, seclusion and restraint, and personal safety of runaway teenagers. Dr. Martinez also served on the Center for Mental Health Services National Advisory Council from 1997 to 2002. Currently, Dr. Martinez holds the office of Vice President in the National Latino Behavioral Health Association, where she is a founding member. She was commissioned by President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to serve as a consultant in the area of cultural competence in mental health.


Her Career

How and when did you decide to go into nursing? How did you discover your interest and talent for it?

Good psychiatric nurses are good listeners. I discovered that I was a good listener when my grade school friends often confided in me about their problems and then expected some kind of advice or encouragement. As you can imagine, I learned much about how others live life, and realized that I wanted to help others in some capacity. In high school, I joined the health careers club and realized that nursing would be a great way to make a meaningful contribution to others in my community.

How have you defined career success for yourself? What have been your personal keys to success in nursing?

For me, success is defined by doing something that we view as meaningful with our lives. What I like about nursing is that one can study to become a nurse (in a two year or four year school), and can practice in a wide variety of health care settings and populations: childbirth, coronary care, mental health, older adults, and teenagers. Once licensed as a nurse, one can move from one area to another with proper orientation to the new specialty, and one can return to school for higher degrees that open the door to even more opportunity. Nurses with a two year degree can earn a BS degree, then a Masters degree (advanced practice nurses), then a doctorate (PhD) if they wish to do teaching and research. There is also a fairly new degree, the Nursing Doctorate, which prepares nurse to be advanced generalists. The point is that one need not be bored in the field of nursing.

What would you consider your proudest accomplishments in the field? Have you had any major setbacks along the road?

My proudest accomplishments have occurred in the practice of nursing. As a clinical specialist in psychiatric nursing, my greatest accomplishments have occurred when I have been able to help my patient see that much of reality is defined by the self and how these perceptions of reality define our opportunities and limitations in life. It takes years to learn to be a counselor and it can be a long difficult road, but with the right mentors it is well worth the work.

What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?

What I like best about being on faculty in a school of nursing is that I am autonomous. Currently, I work in an administrative capacity and practice nursing at an outpatient substance abuse program. My role allows me the freedom to be innovative in the ways I solve problems, to learn continuously, and to meet new people. I feel challenged and rarely feel stuck.


Psychiatric Nursing - Careers/Jobs & Education

Can you please provide a brief history of psychiatric nursing and what are important trends in the field?

Nursing as a profession began with the writings and teachings of Florence Nightingale (1860) who formalized the practice of nursing with knowledge about the person in relation to the environment. In 1837, the first psychiatric nurse in the USA was Linda Richards. She believed that people with mental illness should be as well cared for as those with other illness. In the year 1882, psychiatric nursing was introduced into curricula of schools of nursing, mainly focused on nutrition, hygiene, and activity. By 1950, schools were required to have psychiatric nursing in their clinical practice to become certified by accrediting bodies, and in 1973 the American Nurses Association developed the first standards of care for psychiatric nursing. Finally in 1988, psychiatric nurses were certified by the ANCC (mentioned elsewhere), and in the 1990s, psychiatric nurses earned the privilege of prescribing medication for people with mental illnesses. Presently, psychiatric nurses practice in private practice (patient services or consultants), hospitals (direct care, education of staff, clinical liason), community mental health centers, universities and colleges (educators and researchers).

Who are some of the most important figures in the field of Psychiatric Nursing?

Where I could tell you about well- known psychiatric nurses, I think the most important figures in the field are my mentors, the nurses who pushed my awareness and helped me grow in the field. These fine nurses are Denny Webster, RN, PhD; Diane Igle, RN, MS, and Anne Closson, RN, MS. These nurses made me think about reality and the role that illness plays in our lives.

What are some common myths about Psychiatric Nursing?

I think the film industry has not always been kind to nursing, and especially psychiatric nursing. I think this can be understood when we consider that mental illness is misunderstood and feared in our society. Unfortunately, people with mental illness are usually portrayed as frightening and manipulative, yet are not any more dangerous than the general population. The reality is that everyone is susceptible to mental illness in the right situation, and we are not facing that reality when we fail to treat people with the respect that they deserve. Psychiatric nurses are held to high standards of protecting patient rights, and we work hard to protect their privacy, their dignity and health.

Do you have any general advice regarding how people can be successful in Psychiatric Nursing?

Psychiatric nursing is a growing field. Mental illness is the second largest disability in the USA, second only to cardiovascular conditions. This means that many nurses and other professionals will be needed to care for people with these disorders. My hope is that we move primary care and mental health into the same offices so that people can get comprehensive care, versus chopped up care.

Can you give us an introduction to Psychiatric Nursing education - programs and degrees available. Ranges of length of programs and costs. Admissions requirements...

At the University of Colorado School of Nursing we offer a BS degree in nursing, which allows nurses to practice in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient settings. Nurses who earn the MS in Psychiatric nursing are advanced practice nurses who can study to prescribe medication in addition to their psychotherapist role (counselor). Students may learn more about our requirements by contacting us at:

Are there any important accrediting bodies or professional organizations for Psychiatric Nursing that prospective students should be aware of?

Advanced practice psychiatric nurses can be Board Certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This certification is highly desirable for those nurses who wish to be independent practitioners. The certification is obtained by successfully completing a rigorous four hour exam. The certification is good for 5 years and is maintained by continuing education and advanced level practice, or one can sit for the exam again.


Nursing Administration - Careers/Jobs & Education

Do you have any general advice regarding how people can be successful in Nursing Administration?

Administration and leadership involves knowing how to get others to work together toward a common goal. Co workers have told me over the years that what they want at work is the opportunity to be good at what they do for the organization. I think that effective administrators who work with highly motivated people such as nurses can give the experts (the nurses who actually perform the work on the front line) the opportunity to direct the ways that the work can best be done. This requires trust and good communication.


Other Questions

What is right and wrong with Nursing education in America today?

In nursing education, we are hoping to anticipate the needs of the next generations to come. Our strength lies in that we are well educated about illness and yet, to create change in the health of the US society, we need the cooperation of the people of the society. In other words, knowledge is only part of the solution. We need the willingness of the people to own their own health and to take charge to protect the environment so that we have clean air and water, good sanitation and we need to tend to and own our health. It is not up to the doctor or nurses to keep us healthy, everyone must work to BE in good health. What is wrong? We will be challenged to get nurses ready for the changing population expected in this country over the next 50 years. Cultural competency is a difficult concept for many to grasp. I think that another challenge relates to the diversity in values in our nation. Highly charged health issues like abortion and right to die will be issues that nurses will have to struggle with over time.

What do you consider to be the three greatest challenges facing nursing professionals in the field today?

  1. Preparing for the difficult health challenges ahead: much chronic illness is connected to poor life style choices and with these chronic illnesses, much work will be needed in working with personal choices: exercise, diet, stress control, trauma reduction, to name a few.
  2. Cultural competency: preparing health care providers to work with individuals from many different ethnic and cultural groups.
  3. Substance abuse: alcohol and tobacco are the deadliest substances in our nation. These and other drugs contribute tremendous harm (illness, accidents, death, crime, etc) to our society. With the increase in abuse, more serious health problems will emerge.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a Nursing School?

Select a school that has a solid reputation for good education. Nursing is hard work and thus you should seek a school that prepares you not only for the anticipated work, but also for the role of nursing. The CU School of Nursing has a BS program in Nursing that is the oldest west of the Mississippi. Our Nursing Doctorate is one of three in the whole nation. Many of our Master of Science Programs rank in the top 10 by the US News & World Reports, and our PhD program is widely recognized for its faculty mentoring.

This is a big question... Can you give us a detailed introduction of unique career and educational perspectives in nursing for the U.S. Hispanic population? What can you tell us that would help prospective Hispanic nursing students go onto become successful in the field?

I would tell Hispanic nurses that we have a unique challenge ahead. First, the health care industry must get prepared for the large number of Latinos projected for the US population. By the year 2050, one in four people of this country will be Latino. YOU are needed, Hispanic nurses, to teach others about our culture, our ways. I would like to see Latino nurses pursue higher degrees and to get active within the field of nursing and on the political front. You have to be in the system, and to understand the system if we are to change the system.


Closing Remarks

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to become a nurse?

Nursing is not for everyone, but if you are someone who wants to care for others, can tolerate a good deal of stress, and you want to be an active participant in the world around you, nursing is the place to be. I also need to mention that our nation is in the midst of a nursing shortage!

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