Katrina Craft-Bays now goes by Katrina Bays, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, PMNP-BC.
Bays completed her post master’s in psychiatric mental health, all while continuing to practice as a nurse practitioner as a Hospitalist at Greenwood-Leflore Hospital, raise a family, run for an elected office, and continued volunteering in the community – with a pandemic threatening the health of the country.
Bays completed her post master’s degree on May 6, 2020, from the University of Mississippi. It’s not common to find a nurse practitioner who is dully certified and can practice simultaneously. She said she decided to get a degree in mental health to be a change agent in her community.
“It is a very rare distinction that a family nurse practitioner is dual certified as a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, concurrently. I decided to become dual certified when it became very apparent to me that mental health disparities and stigmas are problematic in many communities at disproportionate rates. Additionally, mental health issues and substance use disorders are often ‘swept under the rug’ and these individuals are often left untreated or undertreated. I wanted to have the skill set to actively manage chronic and mental health conditions cohesively,” she said.
Many of those facing a mental health disparity are those who are Black or poor, a demographic in which Bays hopes to be a “change agent” by raising awareness about mental health.
According to Mental Health America: “Help-seeking behavior is affected by mistrust of the medical system and often begins with faith-based outreach. However, MHA screening data shows that Black and African American people who screen positive for depression self-identify as planning to seek help at higher rates as the general population says they will seek help. Unfortunately, Black and African American providers, who are known to give more appropriate and effective care to Black and African American help-seekers, make up a very small portion of the behavioral health provider workforce.”
Bays, who has been a family nurse practitioner for 10 years, said she’s always had an interest in mental health and decided to further her education.
“I can reflect on numerous accounts that patients would often come to the clinic for chronic illness management but had a greater need for mental health treatment rather than medical management. At that point, I decided to further my education. Therefore, by obtaining the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification, I can treat my patients holistically and increase patient health outcomes,” she said.
She said with her psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree, she can provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders as well.
“I can provide holistic care to individuals, families, or groups with acute or chronic mental health issues, and treat those with substance use disorders in the outpatient and inpatient setting. I can provide treatment modalities such as psychotropic medications; individual, group, and family psychotherapy; crisis intervention and consultation,” she said. “Additionally, I plan to be a change agent in bridging the gap of mental health disparities in minority groups in the community due to the cultural stigma surrounding mental health care and overall lack of awareness about mental health.”
Returning to school for an advanced degree takes much work and dedication, especially when working full time and being active in the community. Bays even ran for public office in 2019, her first venture into the political arena, although her bid for county supervisor was unsuccessful.
“First and foremost, my faith in God kept me sane during that challenging time,” she said. “I was in school full time when I ran for District 3 Supervisor. I had a good family support system while working, being a wife, mother, and running for supervisor, and going to school. My husband, daughter, parents, sister, and friends were very instrumental during the campaign.”
She also continued working full time at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, but she still made time to study and do the required clinical training.
“I worked full time while in the program which was very stressful. My work schedule is seven days on, seven days off. On my week off, I would continue to go to clinical four to five days a week. Basically, I went 11-12 days straight with a two to three day break in between for one full year,” she said. “I took advantage of the days off for rest and prayed continuously. I stayed focused and kept my eyes on the prize,” she said.
With life sometimes becoming overwhelming, Bays said her studies taught her to cope with the stresses of life knowledge that she continues to use every day.
“My training has opened my eyes to different avenues in dealing and coping with stress,” she said. “I have learned alternative ways to deal with stress that were not apparent before. I will be using the techniques that I have learned in my training to help keep a healthy balance in different aspects of my life.
Her next step? Becoming Dr. Katrina Bays and teaching the next generation of nurses.
“I want to earn my doctoral degree in nursing practice. Eventually, I plan to teach toward the end of my career,” she said.
She said for those who wish to achieve big dreams, she has a message, “The sky is the limit.”
“Be a part of a positive change and make a difference in whatever your endeavors are,” she said. “Have positive role models in your life that can steer you in the right direction. Take the time to write down your life goals, develop a plan, check them off one by one, and never give up. The most important advice I would give to anyone is always trust in your ability to accomplish your goals and keep God first.”