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Student Spotlight: Natalie Lewis is Making an Impact in Mental Health

  By Gianluca D'Elia
  Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Natalie Lewis, dressed in gray scrubs, stands next to a hospital bed in the School of Nursing's skills lab.Natalie Lewis '22N spends most of her week either at school or her two jobs as a nurse and emergency response social worker.

Since finishing her bachelor’s in 2022, Lewis has been passionate about contributing to her community through psychiatric and mental health nursing. It’s her way of staying connected to her city. In addition to her studies, she is a per-diem member of Rochester’s Person In Crisis team who accompanies police on mental health calls, and has previously worked as a nurse at the Monroe County Children's Detention Center.

Recently, she returned to the University of Rochester Medical Center as part of the Pediatric Behavioral Health & Wellness team.

“It’s always been mental health for me. That’s my niche,” said Lewis, who is currently pursuing her master’s in the family psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner specialty. “It’s so important, especially for African American families. Most people will tell you — ‘you’re not depressed,’ or ‘you’re not stressed.’”

Growing up, Lewis said she experienced “old-school” beliefs about mental health in the Black community, but she has also seen attitudes start to shift.

Her interest in mental health, combined with a natural gift for math and science, led Lewis to pursue her first bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University at Buffalo.

Afterward, Lewis knew she would need an advanced degree if she wanted to work in a clinical setting. She had considered pursuing a master’s in mental health counseling, but she also felt drawn to nursing. A job as a crisis specialist at Strong Memorial Hospital, where Lewis worked alongside the various members of a behavioral health team, helped confirm her interest in psychiatric nursing.

“Nursing spoke to my caring, compassionate side, and who I am as a person,” Lewis said. “I love talking to people, relating with them, and learning about them.”

That has also been one of the most rewarding parts of her work as a nurse so far, at both the Children’s Center and the hospital. “I’m able to make an impact on the youth and have conversations with them about their current situation and how they can make changes in the future,” she said.

Eager to widen her scope of practice as a nurse, Lewis knew UR Nursing would be the right place to pursue her master’s degree. She had already felt a strong sense of belonging during her time as an accelerated bachelor’s student.

“I enjoy the community within the school,” Lewis said. “I have developed friendships in nursing school that I feel I will have for a lifetime. My friends and I always say, ‘we are related by nursing school.’”

Support from faculty and the Center for Academic and Professional Success also contributed to Lewis’ decision to return to UR Nursing for her master’s. That support even lasted after Lewis graduated, when Kathy Hiltunen, MBA, RN, helped her study for her licensure exam, she recalled.

“There was never a time where I asked for help and did not receive it,” she said.

Lewis’ personal and professional experiences have positioned her for future success as a nurse practitioner, said Instructor of Clinical Nursing Julie Waite, MS, RN.

“Natalie is a true example of a great mentor to her peers,” Waite said. “She offered knowledge and insight to others when working on group assignments in class and collaborated with the class and instructors by actively seeking knowledge and engaging with the information. It has truly been a pleasure to work with Natalie in the classroom and see her blossom into a wonderful nurse.”

Continuing her education is one of Lewis’ proudest achievements. She is the youngest of six siblings, and the first to go to college. She is grateful not only for the chance to build a better future for herself, but to make her family proud as well.

“Seeing my mom happy and proud is the most important thing to me,” Lewis said. “I want to make her life easier and be able to take care of her. I like knowing she doesn’t have to worry about me.”

Categories: Accelerated Programs, Nurse Practitioner Programs, Alumni

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