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CU Nursing student Laurie Andrews, MA, BSN, RN

CU Nursing Grad Student Hears Calling to Child Welfare

Laurie Andrews aims to connect families with a higher level of mental healthcare

Written by Bob Mook on February 17, 2023

Working in the child welfare system gave Laurie Andrews, MA, BSN, RN, an affinity for the parents and children she serves.

Currently a nurse liaison with Arapahoe County, Andrews checks in with families when there are possible safety concerns regarding abuse and neglect. While the role can be depressing and defeating some days, Andrews says she is generally “energized” by her job.

“This population is so misunderstood,” she says. “People automatically think that it must be hard to work with people who hurt their kids. There are certainly parents that make poor choices in parenting, but it's just so layered and complicated. I feel like there are many opportunities to help parents and kids thrive and be more healthy. And so much of that is rooted in mental health and behavioral health. Just through the nature of my work, I really saw the need for mental health, but also was just so fascinated by it.”

“Mental healthcare can be hard to come by – particularly for families in the child welfare system. I would like to be able to provide a higher level of care.” Laurie Andrews, BSN, RN, PMHNP graduate student

Though Andrews always knew she wanted to be a nurse, the road that ultimately led her to the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program at the University of Colorado College of Nursing at Anschutz Medical Campus took her 20 years to navigate. She’s on track to complete the PMHNP program in December, 2023.

“I feel like this has been my life’s work up to this point, and I’m optimistic about what an NP can do in this field,” she says. “Mental healthcare can be hard to come by – particularly for families in the child welfare system. I would like to be able to provide a higher level of mental health care for them.”

Roots in Arkansas

Originally from Conway, Ark., where her mother was a teacher and her father owned a construction company, Andrews earned her BSN at the University of Central Arkansas.

She moved to Colorado in 2004 after landing her first job at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

“I never worked in Arkansas as a nurse,” she says. “I moved to Denver and started my career in the new graduate residency program.”

In 2019, she enrolled in the University of Colorado Denver and earned her master’s degree in learning, development, and family sciences.

Starting in the mom-baby unit and the nursery at UCHealth, she pivoted to a role with a pediatric home health care company serving children with special needs. By 2008, she started her current role as a nurse liaison with Arapahoe County Public Health, formerly Tri County Health Department.

“Our referrals run the gamut,” she says. “We can respond to anything from medical neglect to domestic violence to substance abuse to growth and developmental concerns. We investigate those concerns, and if it’s determined that a family needs more support and services, we transfer them to our longer-term ongoing unit called Permanency.”

In a move to better equip her skills and expertise, Andrews decided to enroll in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty at CU Nursing. The PMHNP program trains advanced-practice nurses how to treat mental illness and promote mental health to diverse patient populations in a number of different settings.

“As a mental health nurse practitioner, I’m able to provide therapies and treatments to people,” she says. “But I’m also able to prescribe medications and do a lot more treatments than with other advanced nursing practice degrees.”

Why she chose CU Nursing

Andrews says CU Nursing’s PMHNP program was a natural choice because being in the Denver metro area it was close to where she lives and works and because of the college’s solid reputation.

“I have lots of professional colleagues who have attended or worked for the University of Colorado and had great things to say about it,” she says. “I got my other master’s degree from CU Denver and had a wonderful experience there.”

Andrews’ advisor is PMHNP Specialty Director Kerry Peterson, PhD, DNP, whom she characterizes as “incredibly kind, thoughtful and supportive.”

“[Dr. Peterson] knows how to support students and how to provide them with the care and support that they need,” Andrews says. “But academically, she understands what's important and is a wealth of knowledge.”

What’s next for Andrews?

Having enrolled in the PMHNP program in August, 2021, Andrews is completing the vast majority of her clinical hours at Children’s Hospital Colorado in various clinics that specialize in pediatric psychiatry.

“Before I enrolled (in the PMHNP program), I had worked on a project to develop a foster-care clinic with pediatricians that work at Children's Hospital,” she says.

Andrews is also a recipient of the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Fellowship, designed to help early-career PMHNPs continue their professional development and training, develop professional autonomy, and complete the hours needed to obtain full prescriptive authority. The fellowship includes a monetary award of $5,500 and requires recipients to produce “scholarly materials” such as a journal submission and a presentation at the CU Nursing Conference for Research and Scholarship (CONRS).

Moving forward, Andrews hopes to continue her work with the child-welfare population.

While she’s not a Colorado native, Andrews says she enjoys “typical Colorado activities” when she’s not working or studying.

“I like being outside, having a beer on the patio, snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the mountains in the summer,” she says. “I also enjoy cooking and yoga. Those things keep me grounded.”

Topics: Students