SIAN PRITCHARD - MENTAL HEALTH NP

Sian Pritchard is a mental health NP that specialises in psychiatry and substance abuse with over 33 years' experience in the nursing profession. Born and raised in Wales in the UK and migrating to Australia in 1989 saw Sian work across a range of specialities in the early days of her career. After being a general nurse for 18 years, Sian migrated to the world of mental health and has been a passionate advocate ever since.

In 2017, Sian set up the first nurse-led practice in Geelong - Pritchard Health - and offers diagnosis, care and treatment across the whole spectrum of mental illness including supporting people with addictions for the broader Geelong community. Sian directs a team of eight individuals at the clinic, which includes mental health nurses, clinical psychologists, and a Bowen Therapist. She is also aligned with a further eight practitioners, three mental health nurses and five mental health social workers who work out of rooms external of the Pritchard Health clinic. 

Through her business, Sian was nominated to enter the Geelong Business Excellence awards in 2018 and was a finalist in four categories. In 2017, Sian was also awarded Fellowship of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses and won the Australian Mental Health Nurse Achievement Award 2017.

When she’s not running Prichard Health, Sian is raising three children plus her fur baby Barnaby (aka Barney) the Golden Retriever who Sian affectionately calls her ‘therapy dog’ due to his willingness to boost the mental and physical health of all those that come in contact with him.

Can you share a little about the community you are working in and the nursing you are providing to patients?

We have extensive expertise across the clinic, and the people that work alongside me have qualifications across a broad range of mental health areas. As nurses we are able to include the biological, psychological and social areas of mental health. In any given day we see pregnant women and new parents experiencing mental health issues, children and teenagers with anxiety and depression plus adults who have lived with psychotic illnesses such as bi polar and schizophrenia for many years.

As well as seeing people at my clinic, I undertake the medical assessments at the Geelong Withdrawal Unit two days a week and offer my NP skills to help with drug or alcohol support for local community members.

On a Wednesday I work at a local Catholic girl's high school - I support their well-being team who refer girls to me that are showing the early signs of anxiety, psychotic illnesses or mental illness. We also support four other schools in the local area via clinic-based and outreach services.

In my role, I have been driven to explore how young people access health services to support intoxication and substance abuse and how this can contribute to mental illness. Having achieved a Postgraduate Diploma in Alcohol and Drugs Studies through Adelaide Uni, I undertook a Postgraduate Diploma in Nursing (Mental Health) through Melbourne Uni. I worked at the JIGSAW Youth Mental Health Service for many years and undertook Masters in Nursing Practice (Nurse Practitioner) through Deakin Uni.

When the public mental health drug and alcohol service were not ready to develop the nurse practitioner role I decided the only way I was going to be able to work as a nurse practitioner was to open my own clinic in primary care. I am incredibly driven to provide mental health support for all of the community through a nurse-led model that appreciates the importance of excellence of care and treatment whether you can afford it or not.

What is unique about your role in the community?

NPs are really accessible - you don’t need a referral to see us - just phone, and we will see you.

We bulk bill all first consultations and focus on helping people navigate the path for mental health care.

We help people with complex issues and make the pathway really easy. As an NP in mental health we don’t just focus on the psychological impact of mental illness, we support people across all domains of health including physical, social and spiritual. Our service is quite unique.

We’re focused on the big picture and go out of our way to make sure that if someone needs to see a specialist we are able to refer but also support and treat the person whilst there can often be a long wait to see a psychiatrist. This can mean the difference between worsening mental illness and starting recovery.

We work with over 50 GPs across the area, paediatricians and psychiatrists including the public mental health service assisting people to seamlessly navigate what is a very confusing health system.

Our model is affordable, which can often be a significant barrier in primary care - and we’re focused on assisting with recovery goals and support for people who are in crisis or relapse. Mental health and drug addiction, in particular, are a dark area for many, and we focus on recovery, holding the person with the illness at the centre of care.  We like to think we walk with people towards reaching their recovery goals.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

In the UK, when I was young, we studied A levels in form 6. My subjects were maths, physics and music and I wanted to go to university and study maths and drama. It ended up that I didn’t get the grades I needed the first time (I think I found boys!) so I did another year at school to repeat A levels with a bunch of my friends who didn’t get the grades they needed as well (we all found boys). I thought I needed a backup plan in case I didn’t succeed that year and thought nursing could be an option. As it was I did get the grades but for whatever reason I decided I would go into nursing instead of university - this is a decision I have never regretted.

I’ve found my career to be so rich and enjoyable. You can have so many different careers in nursing - there are so many different streams and you can re-invent yourself and keep picking up tools for the toolbox. I love that side of nursing and have found over the 33 years in the industry, nursing has allowed me to really challenge myself and develop across a whole range of specialties and help to influence the future of nursing in Australia.

Mental health had never been a considered area of specialty for me however I think I was always meant to walk this path. When I was 8 and my brother was 9 he was taken away to a children's psychiatric hospital in Wales. Over the next 2 years he needed a fair amount of support and as an 8-year-old I remember feeling terrified when he was carried off screaming he didn’t want to go back to the hospital. This has always remained with me and the distress I would see in ED as a nurse when people were incredibly unwell and the fear they showed would strike at my heart.

My brother was an inpatient more than at home over those 2 years and never came back home to live full time until he was 16. Thankfully we do not see that happen these days however the mental health system still has a long way to go and it can be seen as a scary or bad speciality area. I guess mental health care is really relatable to me and I love that we work to find solutions that match our patients and not just try and find one size fits all solutions.

What are you hoping to achieve in your current role as an NP?

We have been in business for 13 months which in the world of business is no mean feat, and next, as a short term goal I want to focus on building a sustainable healthcare service in my local community of Geelong that can be relied upon and grow to meet the needs of the community.

In the long term I really want to grow NPs in the community. I work with individuals who are embarking on their masters, and I really want to focus on encouraging more nurses to take on the role and explore the many benefits of the NP model. The community loves the NP model of care, and it works for Geelong, they have been thrilled with the service, and it is in demand.

My career goal is to ensure that all undergraduate nurses know what a NP is, that working in private practice is possible and you can be successful outside the usual parameters of historical health services.

Having welcomed our first undergraduate nursing students from Deakin Uni this semester it is exciting to be able to inform and educate the next generation. The position really helps the community and bridges the gap in health care that we experience in mental health and also in many areas of healthcare across all specialities.

There can never be enough NPs in the Australia and I am on a mission to support nurses in my practice in particular that want to study and embark on this next stage in their career.

If you weren’t an NP, what would you be doing?

I loved the idea of being an actress back when I left school, and I have always had it in the back of my head as a career choice - who knows, there might be time yet for me to have a career change and become an actress in my 60’s! Look out Hollywood!

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