At Gonzaga, the School of Nursing is a program devoted to educating students interested in pursuing a career as a registered nurse, nurse leader or nurse practitioner. Staff members work to educate their students and provide them with tools for their careers.
Dr. Jeffery Ramirez, a professor who teaches both masters and doctorate students in the School of Nursing, specializes in psychiatric mental health. Ramirez has been teaching at GU since 2009, and prior to that taught for eight years at Washington State University.
GU’s mission statement, which places an emphasis on students being people for others, was what initially drew him to the university.
“[GU’s mission statement] fits right in line with psychiatric mental health because our students are learning how to be more transformative,” Ramirez said. “[They learn] how to transform themselves [and also] how to transform patients into recovery.”
Ramirez said that often, people dealing with chronic mental illness and substance use have a higher likelihood of being homeless at some point in their lives. Because of this, students at GU focus on helping those more vulnerable groups.
“We really cater to the marginalized populations: the homeless…[and] people who have drug addictions and behavioral problems,” Ramirez said. “There’s a lot of stigma that goes along with those and so our program really focuses on teaching our students to be patient-centered.”
One example of how the program does this is that students are required to complete a social justice project. They spend at least two days assisting a population that is considered to be under-served in the Spokane community.
Students are especially encouraged to step outside of their comfort zone and engage with people who they may not normally see themselves working with.
Ramirez originally planned on being a nurse administrator but discovered that helping people with mental illness was the place for him after working at Eastern State Hospital, the local state hospital in the Spokane area.
“What really has always stuck with me and why I chose this specialty was because working in an acute area like cardiac nursing, I saw a lot of suffering…but when I started working with…people with schizophrenia, I have never seen so much suffering in a human being,” Ramirez said. “That’s what really drew me to working with this population. A lot of the time, they just need to be understood [and] listened to.”
Throughout his career, Ramirez has worked with veterans who are dealing with substance abuse issues, done consulting all throughout the country and even developed programs that attempt to reduce seclusion and restraint regulations for people who are dealing with chronic mental illnesses.
At GU, he has taught many of the psychiatric mental health nursing courses over the years, including the introduction to psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner course and psychopharmacology, among others.
Because of his contributions to the nursing world, Ramirez was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing at the beginning of October.
The Academy is an organization composed of nursing scholars and practitioners who are dedicated to promoting nursing at both the policy and public health level, as well as improving nursing practices and patient outcomes in the future. While there are around 4 million nurses in the United States, only 2,000 people have been accepted into the academy.
“I had some really good mentors along the way and as one of them said, they always saw something in me that they knew I could do more than what I thought I can do,” Ramirez said.
The Dean of the School of Nursing, Matt Bahr, said that he was proud of Ramirez’ accomplishment and explained what it means in terms of the university and students.
"In the world of nursing, that’s a very prestigious honor," Bahr said. "And candidates for that are selected based on their contributions and their work over time to advancing public health and well-being. For him to be selected and recognized was…a huge honor for him individually, [and for the School of Nursing], this is a person that’s teaching and training our students to be health professionals, and so we couldn’t be any more pleased."
A humanistic, Jesuit approach for the care of others is something that’s valued within the School of Nursing.
"That really resonates with nursing...there's a direct link there," Bahr said. "To be a person for others."
Ramirez said that nowadays, many people don’t know much about psychiatric mental health nursing and aren’t aware of what students are being trained to do once they go out in the real world. For students who are interested in becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, he has some advice.
“I think they should know that it has to be a passion for them because this is not a profession of just developing a bunch of skills,” Ramirez said. “The skills are internal and the only skill that we have is ourselves. We don’t have the stethoscope…[and] we don’t have any equipment. It’s just our presence and our brain, [and] they have to understand how we use ourselves therapeutically in working with people with mental illness, or in crisis, or just experiencing some form of trauma.”