The Caring Support Blog

From Mental Health RN to Nurse Educator - A Conversation with Monique Harding

July 27, 2023


In this podcast, Monique candidly shares her experiences and insights, offering a glimpse into her fascinating career trajectory. Join us as we embark on this enlightening discussion with Monique Harding—an exceptional nurse whose career evolution from Mental Health RN to Nurse Educator serves as a testament to the endless possibilities within the nursing profession. Stay tuned for an enriching and insightful conversation that will leave you inspired and motivated.

Tell us about yourself.

First off, my name is Monique Harding. I've been a nurse for 17 years now. I did my undergrad, my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at York University in Toronto, And then I completed my Master of Nursing at Western University here in London. I have worked extensively in the mental health field right from the get-go. Have a number of different positions, starting from the emergency department, working in the community with the police clinical investigator, and now I've settled in London as a nurse educator for our mental health program.

What made you want to become an RN?

So, you know, my mother was an RPN. She was also a nurse and worked in palliative care towards the end of high school. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And she suggested nursing. She said it is such a broad field; you can do so much and work anywhere you want in the world. And she said, "Why don't you try until you figure out what you want to do?" And almost 20 years later, I'm still in.

Many people think that nurses just work in hospitals and clinics, but your career as an RN has focused on mental health roles where you have worked on the Mental Health Crisis Team, Mobile Crisis Team, and even worked as a Clinical Investigator. Tell us what it was like working on those teams?

When I started, I did what they called the New Grad Initiative, and so you've got a three-month internship to work somewhere in nursing. And I got an email saying, Hey, do you want to come and work in our downtown emergency department? We will teach you how to be a psychiatric emergency nurse. Oh, that's amazing. So I've got dedicated time to learn the ins and outs of my role. I did that for six years, and you saw everything working in the emergency department. We were dealing with people with serious and persistent mental health issues, addiction, homelessness, social isolation, and a lack of resources. You were scrambling to devise a plan for someone who just showed up at your doorstep, and they're like, Help me. Right. So really, it's one to think on my feet. And then, I moved over to our mobile crisis intervention team. So that's where they paired a mental health nurse with a member from the Toronto Police Service. And I would patrol with them and answer calls for what they called emotionally disturbed persons or EDPs. And I was doing on-the-spot risk assessments. So they are in the middle of their crisis. Sometimes people were actively harming themselves. I've been to jumper calls. Sometimes you're comforting families. It was a big adrenaline rush when you were going lights and sirens to the call. But then when you get there, the police are like, okay, well, do something. They're looking to you to be the expert. So really got to hone my assessment skills in critical thinking. Just learning to trust my own judgment in those moments. And Iris, there was a bit of shelf life to crisis work. So going at ten for a few years, I decided when to try something different and have the opportunity to work for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario as a clinical investigator. And really, it was that when people complain about a doctor or a surgeon in Ontario, someone has to deal with that. It is legislated that we need to address those concerns. Right? So I would listen to what the issue was. It would have to be in writing, too, of course. And I was just a little detective going through medical records, interviewing the complainants, the physicians, and sometimes their legal representatives. And basically, we found a lot of the time. It was communication issues. So having my background in mental health, the team I worked on dealt with concerns that had to do with mental health in some way. So knowing the illnesses, learning how to sometimes be in crisis, working over the phone, dealing with some of the complaints, and dealing with concerns from correctional facilities. Those were so interesting to me that I got to go to a correctional facility and help sort out some complaints there. But it was interesting because it showed me how my mental health skills were transferable to something I had no idea existed. Right. So that was a little bit of my journey. They're all different roles, but the baseline for it is mental health experience.

How has working on those teams influenced how you deal with stress, burnout, etc.?

So, first of all, I learned you can't bottle it up or keep it in, and you need to sort of verbalize what you're experiencing. So being on the sort of health clinician end, people would come in because they had no one to turn to. Right. And sometimes, just having that conversation, I would see people's shoulders relaxed. You could physically see that just getting it out there was helpful to them. And I find it's the same thing for me. I have the informal people I go to vent to sometimes, but I also find different outlets outside of work to de-stress. So for me, my go-to is Zoomba and yoga, one to get the energy up and one to bring it down. But it's really important as a health care clinician, especially in mental health, you can't let the work consume you. You have to find other outlets, or else you'll discover maladaptive ways to cope, right? So if you have those positive ways of coping upfront, it's really helpful to rely on.

Your career has shifted in a different direction and you are now a Nurse Educator. What do you do as a Nurse Educator?

Also, as an educator, I oversee onboarding and education for new nursing graduates who come into our program internal transfers, sometimes people who have no mental health experience at all. And I help to establish that baseline of what they can work with. So that's mainly through orientation, where we go through the different mental health diagnoses, different concepts, you know, things like therapeutic relationships and communication, you know, the recovery model, the Mental Health Act, you know, what's the legislation that guides what we do right? So really lay the foundation for our new staff and then for the existing staff that education might come in the form of like in services or helping more with some clinical skills, or they might do every day.

What is your favourite part of your job now?

I'm just support for all the new staff who come into the program. I'm their go-to person if they need help or a little extra boost. Oh, it's my favorite part. I love orientation because I like seeing when people are excited to enter a new role. They're excited to share, especially when people are coming in, having some experience where they've worked with mental health clients to hear their stories. That's the best way to learn, right? Because you remember the story more than you just rhyming off a few things about the diagnoses, right? If you can put a face to that experience, it's really helpful. And the discussion usually gets going, and people contribute. And I love that part.

What advice do you have for Nursing Students who aren't sure what specialty they want to work in?

Nursing is so broad, and I would always say, don't let someone else dictate your journey. When I started, everyone kept saying, Oh, you need to work in med surge. You know, if you don't work in med search first, you're going to lose your skills. I just use different skills, right? It's still nursing. It's just a different skill set. I don't throw. I'm I wasn't thrown on scrubs to go to work. I was wearing a bulletproof vest. Right. And at the beginning of my nursing career as an undergrad, I didn't know that job existed. When I went to apply to work in the psychiatric emergency team, I didn't know that job existed either. Right? There are so many things out there, and nursing just continues to grow. If you find the area of nursing you like, you can really carve out a niche for yourself.

Honestly, it kind of sounds so cliche coming from a nurse, but I like to help people, right? Why make things difficult? You know, there's this old saying that, you know, nurses eat their young, which I don't know where that came from. I didn't experience that when I started, and I would never want someone who's newer to the field to come in and feel that way, like, let's make people feel welcome. And if people can see that you enjoy your job and are passionate about what you do, that is infectious; it rubs off on people, right? So we're just going to let it snowball and keep that momentum going for all the future nurses.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about today?

We need more nurses, so if you've ever considered it, you know there are many options. It's not the bedside nurse who is, you know, changing dressings. It's not exactly what you think. It really is what you make it out to be. So, yeah, I'll just leave you with that.


Monique Harding is a mental health educator with 17 years of nursing experience. Originally from Toronto, ON, she completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at York University and Master of Nursing degree at Western University. Monique has worked extensively in the mental health field and started her career working in a psychiatric emergency service of a busy, downtown emergency department. Leading up to her role as a nurse educator, Monique has also worked on Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams in partnership with the Toronto Police Service, as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons as a clinical investigator. Currently, her nurse educator role includes overseeing the education and onboarding of new nursing graduates and internal transfers into the mental health program of a tertiary care hospital.

About The Author
Denson Natividad
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