Medical nurse vs. Psych nurse

Medical nurse vs. Psych nurse– As a mental health nurse I have heard over the years many times that we are not “real nurses”, we are babysitters. I would always just smile and shake my head – whatever. I have never in my nursing career ever felt less of a nurse. When I was younger I allowed a few people to make me feel small or that I did not know as much as I needed as a nurse, however, that too changes with the years. No one will make me feel small unless I give them permission (and that is not going to happen) and as far as feeling like a nurse? I feel blessed, talented, and totally able to take care of our mental health patients when they come into the hospital.

In nursing school, most programs give very little attention to mental health. It last about two weeks and one or two rotations in the field to expose the students. Most people are scared of mental health because of the age old stigma that comes with the programming that all mental illness are aggressive, mean and scary. That is far from true, you know someone who has mental illness.

Mental health nurses have to use different skills to assess a patient whom are too sick to take care of themselves. Even though they are in pain the voices in their head could be telling them it is a joke or not real. They could be so confused they do not know that their own health is in danger.

When a patient walks into the ER or rolls in on a stretcher most of the time they are able to talk or have someone with them that can help share what is going on and the reason they are there. However, there are many cases that roll in and they have to assess an unconscious patient and begin applying help without the assessment from conversation.  Without thinking they have a standard set of orders that are applied to that patient by opening a line with an IV, adding O2 for better breathing, and assessing the body for bleeding, and life threatening injury. Then the doctor arrives for the next step.

When a mental health patient arrives in the medical hospital, and has sliced his neck from one ear to the other, and losing lots of blood, or has sliced their wrist and have a great desire to die or even overdosed on medication. These injuries are cared for with the skill to repairs the body on the outside. They are in the right place for help.

As a mental health nurse who admits a new patient that was just discharged from the medical hospital to the mental health hospital. We now have a fresh post surgery patient with a fresh wound, dressing changes to be done, infection control issues, and someone who has a desire to die that is not sharing all the information the staff needs to give proper care. The assessment skills have to kick in for observation on the mental status, observe the fresh wounds gathering information to provide for the doctor.

When I think of medical health vs. mental health I look at the two as team work. Without both sets of nurses skills these patients would not have survived. The body needed to be repaired so healing could begin the next step would be for mental healing.

People forget that patients in a medical hospital have mental health issues also – there is a large population of patients that are laying in a medical bed with mental health issues that are not in our hospital. The mind and body has to be treated as one unit. Without one the other does not work well.

When a mental health crisis happens and a patient attempts to harm themselves the mental health nurse must spring into action to protect the person. Many times that person will fight the staff  reaching for anything they can find to cut, swallow,harm themselves or others. Sometimes they successfully cause greater harm to themselves and need medical attention. Once the patient is brought under control the injury has to be given care, mental assessment, IV’s started for transfer, O2 added for breathing can be applied if needed,the family has to called, receive new doctors orders to apply, 911 professionals to translate information so this person can have the best medical care that can be given once they arrive in the ER.

Each nurse has a specialty and because both the mind and body are one unit they need professional care givers that will raise the odds of receiving the best nursing care possible and will bring overall health to another human.

The next time you hear that mental health nursing is a babysitting job and that the nurses are not real nurses. I hope you will think of this post and smile as this person strokes their ego and speaks about a profession that takes as many skills – just of another kind. We are a team whether medical or mental health nurses and each role has confidence in the care we give for the type of patients we choose to serve.

You are reading our 100th post on


IMG005823 150x150 The Royal Wedding Captures the Attention of a NurseAngela Brooks is a leading distributor of Young Living Essential Oils. Dedicated to natural health solutions, Brooks provides people with healing alternatives without harsh side effects. Additionally, Brooks is a mental health nurse  committed to bringing mental happiness to the nursing profession by motivating and supporting nurses around the country.



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13 thoughts on “Medical nurse vs. Psych nurse”

  1. Angela,
    All I can say is "Here, here!"  You have summed it up quite eloquently.  Being a nurse, whether medical or mental health, is really the same.  We simply use a different set of assessment tools and we spend more time with our patients just talking to find out what really is going on.  This is a great article.  Thanks for writing it.

  2. Vicki Skinner

    Very good Angela! I agree it takes all types of nurses. I heard the babysitter comment about psych nurses while I was in nursing school. However, having worked in the Admission Office at the hospitial prior to nursing school and aware of now many patients were admitted with an Axis III diagnosis, I was able to inform them that being a “babysitter” actually required very strong assessment skills. It is much easier to asses someone that is oriented x3 instead of believing they are Zoro and you are trying to kill them. 🙂

  3. Thank you Vicki – Yes I agree we must have very strong assessment skills in order to care for out patients in the manner that we do – Thank you for being a good nurse

  4. Angela,
    First of all congratulations on your 100th post. Girl, all I can say is you are one awesome mental health nurse. Even when we are not in your hospital, nor diagnosed with a mental illness; you inspire all of us to check our mental attitudes toward those who are. Thank you for who you are, what you do and for opening up to share your world with all of us. You rock!

  5. Congrats on your 100th post! This one is amazing as always…being rooted in the field of psychology I totally agree with you…from where I stand, although both medical and mental nurses are truly angels doing God's work, I see the medical as a pretty clear cut situation to deal with, a physical injury or sickness can for the most part be conveyed by the patient, analyzed by a doctor and treated. Mental health is a world of unknowns…many times the patient hasn't a clue as to what their problem is or sometimes that they even have one. That takes a special kind of person to be patient, alert and ready to respond to a whole host of unknowns…healing the mind is far different from healing the body…..that's just my 2 cents worth anyway! Great article!

  6. Carol Douthitt

    Angela… congrats on your 100th post!  I so enjoy reading your journey in the psych ward and honor you for the wonderful loving care you provide your clients!

  7. I never fail to be absolutely AWED by what psych nurses end up doing in the course of their work every day.  You are all amazing!

  8. Congratulations on 100 blogs – well done!! And such a good article. I don't know who could think you are not a real nurse, you are two nurses in one!

  9. Yes! I literally just had a healthcare worker tell me that Psych nurses aren’t real nurses. I’ve been a nurse for 12 years and 11 of those years have been in psych. I did work for almost a year on a high level medical unit. I was capable of take care of those patients, but my passion lies in mental health. It’s more difficult to assess a mental health patient than a patient who is in their right mind. Keep up the awesome work, psych nurses!!

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