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Doctor of Nursing Practice Student Focuses Service, Education on Mental Illness

Tori Boyland

Tori Boyland, BSN, is a nurse on a mission to normalize mental illness.

“I don’t understand, from the community’s perspective, why it is so easy to accept other illnesses, but not mental illness. A patient with cancer requires many of the same things a patient with mental illness does – medication, support, a healthy diet,” said Boyland, a student in the psychiatric mental health concentration of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing. She will graduate in May.

Boyland is pursuing her DNP so that she can advocate at a higher level for mental health resources. “I love working with underserved populations, and I see a lack of resources and a huge need,” she said.

She has already begun advocating for people with mental illness through her weekly Facebook livestream called, “Tori Talks,” where she interviews local experts and leaders on the subject, as well as others in the community. She has also initiated several Days of Service with local organizations, including the Memphis Police Department, and has done mental health education sessions for local organizations, as well. Because of these efforts she was the College of Nursing’s honoree at the 2021 Black Student Association Awards Ceremony on February 25. The awards, held annually, recognize the accomplishments of graduating Black student leaders from each of the six colleges at UTHSC.

Boyland didn’t initially plan to become a nurse. As a teenaged mother, her first job was waitressing, but she moved on to work as a police dispatcher for 13 years. In that role, she had the opportunity to attend college and attained her first bachelor’s degree in psychology. She went on to earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at the University of Memphis, but later returned to school to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN).

“I fell in love with mental health counseling, but I felt I could make more of an impact as a nurse,” she said.

While some people may shy away from the mental health field, “I loved the way the mind worked,” Boyland said.

In her role as a police dispatcher, she often found herself speaking to people in mental health crisis. “And some of the people I encountered as a dispatcher later ended up being my patients as a counselor and as a nurse,” she said.

Assistant Professor Jacqueline Sharp, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, leads the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentration at the College of Nursing. “Latoria is an exceptional student. She is engaged in her learning and tries to learn everything,” Dr. Sharp said. “Her passion for those with mental health illness touches my heart. I see Latoria as an upcoming leader and change agent in the field of mental health. “

Boyland, 45, works PRN – or as needed – at Lakeside Behavioral Health and is a full-time DNP student at UTHSC. She and her husband are the parents of four children, and Boyland has worked on her doctoral degree while navigating a health care crisis in the life of her daughter, who began having heart issues at age 15.

Now 19, her daughter still does not have a diagnosis for the debilitating problem that has resulted in several admissions to the intensive care unit. She is on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

As Boyland looks forward to graduation, she is grateful for all of the steps in her journey to becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. “Every step in my academic and personal journey has prepared me for where I am now,” she said.

When providing mental health care, “you have to be able to approach people and situations non-judgmentally and put aside your biases,” Boyland said. “We have to intentionally educate ourselves and interact with people with open minds and open hearts.”