a campus building titled
Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2024

Title:Meet Karan Kverno, director of an upcoming postgraduate certificate program at the School of Nursing

Author: Interview by Gabrielle Barone
Date Published: January 6, 2024

Karan Kverno, head of the new Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program (PMHNP) joined Georgetown in September 2023.

a woman with a black shirt and red glasses
Karan Kverno (Photo: Georgetown University)

When did you first develop an interest in psychiatric nursing?

As an undergraduate biology student, I saw an article that described the difficulty of finding jobs in biology. Someone told me nursing was like biology, so I switched majors and found out that it was a lot more than just biology. 

I won a lottery to spend a summer semester caring for seasonal migrant farmworkers in Colorado. Living and learning among such a vibrant and resilient community of welcoming families was so incredible that it influenced my decision to go into public health nursing. 

Later I learned of a psychosocial nursing program at the University of Washington, led by Helen Nakagawa. (Nakagawa was later honored with a University of Colorado Pathfinder Award for the innovative program, and for overcoming discrimination and adversity as one of the first post-WWII Japanese-American nurses in the U.S.) She was an incredible mentor and influenced the rest of my career. Dr. Nakagawa built a sustainable stress-management clinic, where we, her students, applied our training in psychophysiology, behavioral therapy, and biofeedback to help patients. I was one of the first nurses to be certified as a biofeedback therapist, and in one of the early cohorts of certified clinical specialists in psychiatric-mental health nursing (PMHCNS). Much of my subsequent early professional development took place as a member of the interprofessional Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. I was recruited to the DC area for my experience as a biofeedback-certified PMHCNS.

I eventually realized everything I wanted to study, learn, and contribute could be done through psychiatric nursing. The field has been good to me and has opened many doors.

What’s it like coming into the school and leading a program like this one? 

I felt very welcomed here immediately. The program vision came from our dean, Dr. Roberta Waite. I’ve had a faculty practice with the MedStar Health Good Samaritan Hospital psychiatric service for 12 years, and I’ve worked with MedStar Health psychiatry leaders to strengthen the PMHNP onboarding process, so I’m very happy to contribute to the growing partnership between the School of Nursing and MedStar Health [MedStar Health is Georgetown’s academic health system partner] . 

Do you have a favorite thing about campus and the Georgetown community?

My favorite thing is the inclusive and just culture at Georgetown, and the cross-collaboration between disciplines to promote whole-person health. For me, the collaborative aspect is unique. The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) is an amazing resource, and at the faculty orientation, I met Dr. Qiwei (Britt) He, data analytics educator and researcher. I introduced her to Dr. Mihriye Mete, MedStar colleague and director of Behavioral Health Research, and together we developed a generative data study to improve measurement of acuity in psychiatry and improve student learning in AI, for which we received project pilot funding from the Georgetown Red House and CNDLS. 

What’s it like to build a program from the ground up?

There are many structural and process levels to build a new program. The first ongoing step was to pull together an interdisciplinary advisory leadership committee from the School of Nursing, MedStar Health psychiatry services, and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Next, we collaboratively build the program to promote the unique vision and mission of Georgetown University and the School of Nursing. The program and courses should have a similar feel to the other nurse practitioner programs offered. We are now beginning to circulate the curriculum and course drafts through stakeholder layers, and eventually through the accreditation and regulatory bodies. We will be ready to interview students in Summer 2025 for a Fall 2025 start. Dean Waite also aims to build more global collaborative learning and service partnerships, so I will be contributing PMHNP ideas.

Any advice for people curious about this profession?

In a way, all health care clinicians are in the profession of mental health care. All nurses provide mental health care as they care for patients. It’s not just about medication. A lot of it is teaching people about making important changes in their life or behaviors, how to self-regulate better.  This field is for nurses who want to provide higher level mental health care, though there are  multiple paths for getting there. Our students will be primary care nurse practitioners returning for PMHNP certification. I’m happy to talk to anybody who’s interested. 

It’s not just about medication. A lot of it is teaching people about making important changes in their life or behaviors, how to self-regulate better. 

What do you do in your downtime?

I grew up skiing in Colorado. When I lived in Wyoming, I took up pottery and continued to ski. My days of skiing may be over, but I very much enjoy Tai Chi class at Brookside Gardens. I recently met some people that throw pots together. There’s also always something to do in DC! One of my favorite things is exploring the Glenstone Museum in Maryland. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

My family name is Kverno—it’s also the name of the very tiny fishing island off the coast of Norway. It’s still inhabited by a few remaining members of my paternal family. My husband’s parents both came from Switzerland, so our family has dual Swiss citizenship. We celebrate Swiss Independence Day on August 1. I generally take a turn at throwing the flag [a Swiss tradition] for laughs.

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