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Mark Bartruff Hones Psych Nursing Career With Online Master’s

NKU MSN PMHNP student Mark Bartruff and his fiance

Mark and his fiancée, Gabriella

When Mark Bartruff proposed to Gabriella, he gave her a ring — and a porch swing that he built.

Bartruff, a woodworking enthusiast, and Gabriella have more in common than a future together. Both work in caring professions: He’s a registered nurse in a chemical dependency unit, and she works with patients with disabilities and has a passion for Alzheimer’s patients.

There’s more. Both he and Gabriella are earning master’s degrees. Her focus is occupational therapy, and he’s enrolled in Northern Kentucky University’s Master of Science in Nursing – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner online program.

Bartruff’s preparation for a nursing career began with the undergraduate prereqs he took at NKU. He then earned a BSN from the University of Cincinnati in 2015.

Finding His Groove

Though Bartruff wanted to become an ER nurse, he found himself drawn to mental health through a psychiatric rotation at Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center.

“Working with the vets there and helping them through their psychiatric illness — whether it’s PTSD, anxiety, depression, psychosis, suicidal, even homicidal ideations — I really felt a calling to help such a vulnerable population. Not just the veterans, but all people suffering from mental illnesses,” he said.

While working as a co-op student at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Bartuff was inspired by Dr. Daniel Medeiros Almeida to pursue a master’s degree and become a psych nurse practitioner. The encounter also cemented his desire to “help this patient population even more.”

Bartruff worked as a travel nurse in Kentucky, Virginia and Montana. When he felt he had gained enough experience, he decided to go for an MSN.

“I wanted something online because I wanted to keep working,” said Bartruff, an RN at SUN Behavioral Health in Erlanger, Kentucky, where he cares for patients suffering from mental illness with alcohol and opioid dependencies.

A Different Plane

Bartruff’s positive experience as an undergrad made choosing NKU for his master’s a no-brainer. His preference for face-to-face learning had him wondering if the online format would work for him, but his doubts soon faded.

“Every week our professors reach out and ask if we need anything … they reach out to you on Canvas [NKU’s online learning management system], on emails, and I have the app on my phone. So any time they send a message … for anything that’s new, it goes directly to my phone, which is very convenient,” he said.

Some of the professors hold live web conferences to discuss course topics and answer questions, and he finds these helpful.

He appreciates the assistance with research, too. “We can email our librarian — not a computer, but an actual person — which is nice. The librarians help us refine our searches. So that’s been very helpful, as well.”

For one of his assignments, Bartruff had to collaborate with another student to critique a national guideline. They divvied up the work via text and exchanged drafts via email to produce the final paper.

“We did really well on it, which I was excited about,” he said.

NKU MSN PMHNP student Mark Bartruff and his family

Mark with Gabbi and Dezy

Tools of the Trade

The online MSN program’s research resources are helping Bartruff discover methods and interventions to use in his job. Talk about practical knowledge!

“To be honest, I didn’t really know a lot about how much research hospitals do to find the best practice, and when I was a younger nurse, a lot of that terminology just kind of flew right past me,” he said. “It’s eye-opening to be learning about research and how it [applies] to every hospital and every nurse practitioner or provider.

“That’s helped a lot in my current practice, in talking with some other nurses and my nurse manager about the issues we’re facing at the hospital.” 

Of the courses Bartruff has taken so far, MSN 611: Advanced Clinical Pharmacology and Intervention for APRNs stands out for its relevance to his current and future work. His final project is focused on opioid addiction. “I’m figuring out what therapy, medication or other intervention works best for this population.”

Key Supports

The online format is a fit for Bartruff who works three 12-hour shifts a week. “I get four days off that I can just dedicate to school. I spend literally all day on reading or doing what I need to do for school, which is very convenient,” he said.

“It helps that it’s online because I get up at 6, get my coffee started, go to my office and just get studying.”

Bartruff lives 15 minutes from NKU and enjoys having access to the library and gym, a benefit the university extends to its online students. “I go to the library for hours,” he said, “and I’m able to study there, then hit the gym after.”

With family and friends rooting for him, he’s eyeing a Spring 2020 graduation.

“They’re excited but a little nervous because they know it’s a lot of work, especially with me working full time and everything. But they know that I’ve always wanted to do this … that I have a deep passion for this population, and they know that I can make a difference.”

He receives ample support on the work front, with supervisors willing to work around his exams and critical assignments. “They haven’t let me down because they know it’s a big priority for me,” he said.

Joint Venture

Bartruff offers two pieces of advice to anyone considering the online MSN Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.

The first relates to purpose: “Have some experience working with this population. Ask yourself if you would be able to work for this population and be their advocate.”

The second relates to learning style: “If you’re not good at time management, it might be a little difficult for you, especially for how fast-paced this program is.”

Studying online while working means a tight schedule for Bartruff, but he still carves out time for woodworking to help him relax. To recharge, he works out and plays pick-up basketball with his buddies.

“When I do have free time, my fiancée and I make wedding plans,” he said.

Way to put a ring — and a swing — on it!

Learn more about NKU’s online MSN – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.

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