The patient couldn’t speak and didn’t understand English. A member of the Hmong community from southeastern China, she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and depression, was placed under court-ordered treatment, and was dealing with a strained family relationship.
This would have been an easy time to give up, but the patient was under the care of Dr. Angela Mackay ’17, ’13, and the psych consult nurse refused to give up. “Some of nursing is based on what you know,” she says. “And some is doing what you feel, what you need to do to reach each patient.”
Mackay began visiting her daily—sometimes for 2 hours—and arranged with executive leaders and legal for the patient to be able to go outside for walks. After 112 days, she was discharged. “I did all I could to assist the patient and her family,” she says. “It was very emotional, but I knew we could reach her.”
Mackay’s instincts for mental health nursing began in Sierra Leone, where she was born and where mental health patients are often shunned by their families and communities. At 15, she moved to England to further her education, and in 1990, she began her career in healthcare, supervising a rehabilitation unit for patients with brain injuries.
In 2000, she moved to the U.S., where she earned her associate degree in nursing from Century College and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Metropolitan State University. In 2006, she became a mental health resource nurse, and workplace violence and patient-staff assault became the focus of her attention. “Maintaining a safe work environment is important for both healthcare providers and patients,” Mackay says. “A medical staff has to feel safe to provide the quality and compassionate care patients deserve.”
While serving as a mental health consult nurse at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mackay began her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at Walden. She applied the knowledge and leadership skills she was gaining to form the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), a group trained to intervene if a patient becomes disruptive. The PERT program earned her the American Psychiatric Nurses Association 2015 Award for Innovation for individuals as well as the Minnesota March of Dimes Nurse of the Year Award for mental health. She expanded on her work with PERT when she began her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
“It was always my dream to earn my doctorate and to continue to grow as a person and a professional,” Mackay says.
Her passion for nursing led her to Northwest Hospital in Maryland, where she mentors the nurses around her, encouraging them to further their education, to look for opportunities to help move mental health treatment forward, and to get their psych certifications.
“Continuing my education has made me more confident in my written communications and research skills,” she says. “I’m also more confident in discussing them with my leaders and peers. That’s the only way we’re going to implement evidence-based change. You have to speak up.”
Mackay’s passion has not gone unnoticed, especially by her four daughters. Her two oldest have earned bachelor’s degrees and are pursuing master’s degrees in psychology at Walden, seeking to help others—just like their mother.
“I’m proud of all my daughters and am hopeful they’ll work to help others as well,” Mackay says. “As for me, I’m already thinking about what’s next. There’s plenty more to learn and plenty more to give. I’m not tired just yet.”