Prof. Judy Osborne’s classroom isn’t the traditional lecture hall: students in her Trent University Nursing course, 2021 – Family Focused Practice, meet in the mental health inpatient unit at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre. While doing their placement, students “can rotate from one unit to another – from the crisis unit, to outpatients, to the child and adolescent unit,” she says. “So by the end, they’ve had a really wide exposure to mental health nursing.” The class is one 12-hour day per week: “It’s a long day for the students, but they learn so much.”
Prof. Osborne also teaches 4020 – Independent Nursing Practice. Her role is to advise and support about “20 students across the province,” with phone and Skype conversations, as well as some face-to-face visits.
One thing Prof. Osborne helps all students learn is the importance of destigmatizing mental health. Many clients in the mental health system experience stigma, so she ensures that “students learn early on the value of the kind of language we use when talking about clients. Our clients are not ‘crazy’ – they’re experiencing symptoms.”
Field trips also expand students’ understanding of the contexts and lived experiences of mental health. One trip is to The One Roof Community Diner, where Prof. Osborne has been a dedicated volunteer. There, students prepare and serve dinner to the diner’s guests.
“It’s such a great opportunity for students to become connected to folks who have experienced marginalization,” she says, adding that students appreciate having these diverse experiences. “Some students have told me, ‘Judy, I’m never bored!’ There’s always so much going on. But there are quieter moments,” she adds. When clients are on a day pass or sleeping, students are “encouraged to work in their journals or do research on medications, for example.”
She also teaches students the value of transferable skills: “Even if they don’t go on to practice in a mental health unit, I tell them that these skills can be applied wherever they end up. They might encounter a new mom who’s anxious, or if they’re working in palliative care, they’re more than likely to encounter someone experiencing depression at losing a loved one. So I encourage them to develop these skills no matter what area they’ll specialize in.”
On top of teaching, Prof. Osborne is “a lifelong learner” – in June, she started a PhD in Education with a focus on “innovative education.” She’s already applying some innovative ideas in her classes: “I do a lot of simulations,” she says. One involves helping students understand “what it might be like to experience the world with internal stimuli” (i.e. auditory hallucinations). So while teaching in a regular classroom during post-conference times after a full day in the clinic, she plays a recording of voices – but usually for only two minutes, as “students find it too overwhelming,” she explains. “What would it be like to navigate your life like that, to have a conversation with someone while you’re hearing voices? And not pleasant voices, they’re usually very demeaning. So it must be very hard.”
With a satisfying career teaching the clinical and other courses at Trent (and at Fleming College), why did she return to school to pursue first a master’s degree and now a PhD? “I just want to be a better teacher,” she says. “The more education I have, the more I can offer my students – they really inspire me. So I always try to give the best I can. Not for tenure, but to be the best teacher I can be.”
In both nursing and teaching, Prof. Osborne’s “passion for supporting people” has motivated her. Even early on in her nursing career, when doing such things as changing dressings, clients would feel comfortable share their worries with her. “It just seemed to come naturally,” she says. And it isn’t only the clients she supports emotionally: “I just wrote a paper on the emotional impact on students in the clinical course – it gives them the opportunity to learn so much, but it can be emotional for them as well.”
She’s also motivated by her interactions with both students and clients: “I enjoy working with students and patients together and watching how they bring out the best in each other,” she says. “After students have spent time with clients, I’ll ask the clients how they’re feeling, and I get very positive feedback. From the nurses too: often they say the students are very professional. They feel it’s so beneficial to the clients to have students supporting them. People in other areas of nursing may wonder why a student plays Monopoly with a client. But it’s so therapeutic – the interaction builds clients’ confidence.”
Prof. Osborne lives in Peterborough with her family, and both of her daughters attend Trent. “My kids are hardworking,” she says, speculating that they might have been influenced by observing her working on her various degrees as they grew up. As parents, “my husband and I are very pleased with the university,” she says, noting that their youngest daughter is in chemistry, while the oldest is in business.
Aside from spending time with her family – and when she’s not working, studying or volunteering – she also loves biking, kayaking, skating and gardening. She “absolutely” sees a connection between physical activities and mental health (she starts her own day with yoga or aquafit). As for mental health clients at the hospital participating in the occupational therapy program, she says, “We see the benefits. Clients seem to talk more when they’re walking outside – they’re more relaxed. And students can identify the difference in their interactions, the change from being inside versus outside.”
Though she retired in 2008 from front-line nursing in order to teach, she says that now, “because I’m doing the clinical placement, I get the best of both worlds. I was just talking with my mom about how when I was growing up I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse! And now I teach nursing – so it’s a perfect blend of my lifelong interests!”