Featured NP: Ellen Huffmaster – AONP

Featured NP: Ellen Huffmaster

When you combine rural Oklahoma and a specialty such as mental health, you find there aren’t a lot of options available. Ellen Huffmaster wants to change that. As a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, Ellen believes NPs can play a significant role in providing services to those living in rural areas that they might not otherwise have access, and she is especially passionate about the role NPs can play in the mental health community. We recently spoke with Ellen about why she became an NP and how she hopes to see the NP’s role grow in Oklahoma.

1. Why did you decide to pursue a career as an NP? 

I decided to become an NP after being a RN for more than 17 years. I saw a huge gap in psychiatric services being delivered to individuals in my community. Enid is not a small town, but it did not have adequate psychiatric services. There were plenty of counselors, but medication management was a huge gap. Local family doctors, NPs or physician assistants were left to manage psychiatric medications or individuals had to drive to Tulsa or Oklahoma City to see a psychiatrist or PMHNP. This left many adults and children with inadequate services for managing their psychiatric medications. This was my primary passion for deciding to return to school.  

2. How did you decide to specialize as a family mental health psychiatric NP? 

I knew that this was the one area of specialties that was lacking professionals. At the time I started school, I believe there were only about 12 NPs with psychiatric specialty training. 

3. How would you like to see your profession change over the next 10 years? 

I would love to see more NPs specializing in psychiatry. I believe that independent practice is essential for the role of NPs to be fully utilized in Oklahoma. Many states have already adapted to full practice authority. Oklahoma needs to work quickly on this. Independent practice would have allowed me to open a practice in Enid, Oklahoma.  Right now there is not a full time psychiatrist in Enid, which has kept me from expanding available services. The limited number of psychiatrists in our region limits expanding services under the current rules and regulations for NPs.

4. Tell us about the most rewarding experiences you’ve had in your practice. 

The most rewarding thing in practicing psychiatry is seeing an individual change emotionally and physically. I have had patients thank me for adjusting their medications to the point of being able to function better in society. Mental health treatment changes individuals. It can open the door for people who feared being around others to becoming a professional with a full time job. My patients make my job worth all of the stress on a regular basis. I love my job. 

5. You have a passion for the role NPs play in mental health and other specialties. Tell us about that.

The ability of NPs to specialize allows us to provide quality care in many areas of practice that are currently underserved. The specialty programs in NP training allow NPs to focus on certain areas of practice. This increases the number of specialists that are available in communities both urban and rural. Specialties are always needed especially in rural areas. I envision NPs providing more specialty services in the underserved areas in the future. This will increase access to care for patients, which is vital to keeping Oklahoma healthy. 

6. What would you like to say to someone considering a career as an NP?

Go for it. Be dedicated and determined to providing quality care to your patients. Know that it will take a lot of work, time and dedication to complete, but it is worth it. Being an NP has been a great privilege for me. My family has had to make a lot of sacrifices, but overall the job satisfaction is worth all of the struggles.  

Ellen has made it clear that rural health care is in crisis. There are not enough options for specialized health care, especially when it comes to mental health, in small towns and farming communities across our state. Patients have to drive too far to get their hands on the treatments and medications they need to live full and meaningful lives. Oklahoma’s shortage of rural specialty health care providers will only continue to limit access as populations grow. It’s essential NPs be granted the opportunity to build independent practices in their communities.