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Career Change Fulfills a Dream

Why Karen Became a Nurse in Her 40s

Pursuing a new career later in life can be intimidating. Karen Senica, APRN, PMHNP-BC, a Behavioral Health nurse at Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital, chased her career dreams in her 40s. Here, she shares her inspiring journey into health care.

Why did you become a nurse?

I always wanted to be a nurse, but I became a mother at 18 years old and immediately entered the workforce. I simply figured I would never have the chance to pursue a nursing career. In my 40s, my awesome husband encouraged me to pursue my dreams. He fully supported me going to school full time. I didn't think I could do it, but he believed in me and encouraged me every step of the way. I was the oldest student in my nursing program, but I did it and graduated in 2015!

What led you to becoming an APRN?

Once I began working on our inpatient Behavioral Health Unit, I realized I had a strong desire to serve my patients in a higher capacity. There is a significant need for mental health services and providers in the McHenry County community, and I wanted to be a part of the solution, especially for underserved populations. 

What is your secret for success in nursing? 

  • Treat your patient as you would treat a family member or yourself, and you will never go wrong.
  • Educate and partner with each patient.
  • Encourage your patients to understand how their medications work, allowing them to be a major part of the decision-making process.
  • Speak frankly but tactfully. If you are concerned with a behavior, address it. Don't be afraid to speak your concerns directly. 
  • Give patients choices as much as possible.
  • Encourage therapy for all patients. There is no magical pill that can solve all problems, and nearly all Behavioral Health patients need a solid partnership between psychiatry and psychology.
  • Spend the time and effort collaborating with colleagues at Northwestern Medicine and in our community. Partnership among colleagues results in much higher quality of care for patients.

How do you build your resilience?

Seeing patients' lives improve builds my resilience. I had a patient overcome with anxiety. After our first visit, I prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which allowed her to leave her home and finally schedule a mammogram she had put off for years. She was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer and was told if she had waited just four more months, it would have been terminal. Afterwards, she brought me flowers and told me she would have never went had it not been for the treatment.

Do you have a personal mantra you live by?

The prayer by St. Francis of Assisi: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." I say it every day on my way to work.

Mental Health Services