When Run Heidelberg was 18 years old, a friend got a piece of glass caught in his throat and none of his friends knew what to do.
Fortunately, Heidelberg was able to get his friend to a hospital emergency room.
Although he had been following his mother, a nurse, around since childhood and was already working as a nurse’s aide, it wasn’t until then that it occurred to him that becoming a nurse would take getting an education. Joining the National Guard and then the Army opened career and educational opportunities on that path.
He became an experienced and expert medic. He expanded on that experience by becoming a registered nurse (RN) and eventually earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nursing. He’s now on the verge of completing his Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Brandman University’s Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions.
“My mom always wanted me to become a doctor, but I wanted to be a nurse,” said Heidelberg, who sees this last link in his education as a way of fulfilling her dreams while staying true to his own.
Nursing career booster
He’s already seeing his career take a major leap thanks to his Brandman education. Heidelberg is the first nurse to become the associate administrator of clinical services at the Hawaii State Hospital, a role previously only filled only by medical doctors. His role includes supervising the heads of seven divisions: psychiatry, psychology, social work, forensics, psycho-social rehabilitation, clinical safety, and mental illness and substance abuse.
Heidelberg’s dissertation centers on the IMUA staff approach to psychiatric patients. It stands for “interaction, mindful documentation, unconditional positive regard, being available,” and its implementation has reduced assaults on staff members from 143 in 2013 to 76 in 2016. The acronym has an additional meaning in Hawaii where the word imua means “moving forward.”
Nearly all (98 percent) of the state hospital’s patients are there because of criminal charges and are considered dangerous and mentally ill. The combination puts the staff at higher risk than most psychiatric facilities, which is why Heidelberg was eager to introduce a program modeled on the iCARE (improving communications and remission) system in place elsewhere in the country while adopting a Hawaiian and hospital-specific name.
“It’s really a hospital-wide project. We had a naming and logo contest,” said Heidelberg, who has been waiting for the project’s data, which first needed to be reviewed by the state legislature, to complete his dissertation.
“I’ve been to a lot of schools. Brandman is totally awesome,” said Heidelberg, adding he wishes more people knew about it. “They really take the time to make sure that you’re learning what you need to learn, and they’re always accessible.”
The options in Hawaii for acquiring advanced nursing degrees are limited, especially for someone working in a demanding full-time job. Brandman’s combination of online courses coupled with twice-a-year full week immersions at the Irvine campus allow him to continue working and his degree despite a 3-hour time zone difference. “They meet with you when you’re available,” said Heidelberg.
Focus on mental health
If there’s one thing Heidelberg wishes people knew about nurses it would be how vast the field is. “People usually think about hospitals and the bloody part of it but really there are all different kinds of fields, once you get past the basics.”
As the kid who preferred bandaging up birds while his brothers fired off BB guns at them, Heidelberg was first drawn to nursing with the goal of working in critical care until he found himself gravitating toward the psychiatric side of nursing because of work he did as a medic.
“I learned there was a lot more going on than just aches and pains. They (the soldiers in his unit) needed someone to talk to,” he said. Once again, getting an education was the key to expanding his ability to help.
He wishes people knew more about their own bodies and health, especially understanding that what they put in their bodies can also affect their mental health. That includes foods they don’t know they’re allergic to, alcohol, marijuana, and prescription and illicit drugs. His advice: “Don’t do what you don’t know.”
Related story: Why did you become a nurse?