Alyssa Weissinger’s Path to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Headshot of UB alumna Alyssa Weissinger.

Alyssa Weissinger, DNP '19

Growing up, all but one person in Alyssa Weissinger’s family worked in business and law. Her great aunt, with whom she was very close, was a nurse at Cornell University School of Nursing.

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“My cohort [at UB SON] was small, and I felt supported from all angles, from my capstone advisor to our capstone statistics consultant. I never felt like my voice wasn’t heard. Their guidance was invaluable."
Alyssa Weissinger, DNP '19

"I was always a very inquisitive child,” she says. “I was very curious, and the human body, especially the brain, fascinated me. I remember seeing pictures of her in her nursing cap and breaking out her medical textbooks. Her career always resonated with me. She was gentle and kind, and I wanted to be like her.”

Flash forward to the present, and Weissinger works as a psychiatric nurse practitioner at  BestSelf Behavioral Health. In her role, she’s responsible for assessing, diagnosing and providing pharmacological management and education for adults with a variety of mental illnesses, including severe and persistent mental ill patients and Clozaril management. She is also the primary psychiatric provider the adult eating disorder treatment services.

A psychiatric presence in the community.

Through BestSelf, Weissinger works with three urban community health outpatient clinics.  

"One clinic, Niagara Riverview, is very non-traditional,” she explains. “It’s a serious and persistent mental illness server, and many of the people we work with are homeless. We have to be flexible with these patients and understand that they don’t have the resources or mental fortitude to adhere to scheduled appointments, so we have to meet them where they’re at.

“At another clinic, Linwood Community Services, I work with a large Arabic-speaking population of refugees from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. We’re still able to connect with these patients throughout the pandemic by three-way calling with a translator. These patients have very unique experiences, which makes it interesting from a cultural perspective. 

“And lastly, I work a Delaware Park Community Counseling Center, which is located by Medaille College. A lot of Medaille’s counseling and psychology students intern at the clinic. I love working in such a welcoming academic learning environment and being able to watch students’ growth.” 

When it comes to working in mental health, Weissinger explains that there’s a lot of trial and error in her practice. But the lack of instant gratification doesn’t make her job any less rewarding.

“Working in mental health is very tricky,” she explains. “It’s oftentimes subjective, as you cannot see human emotion. You have to be able to help patients in a way that’s not concrete. But helping these patients is so rewarding. You see them gain insight into their symptoms and greater awareness of their emotional response. Sometimes, patients don’t adhere to their routines and they have to start over. That's okay, though. My patients aren’t machines; they are human.”In addition to her full-time role, Weissinger also took a temporary RN position in spring 2020 at St. Joseph’s Hospital COVID-19 treatment center on the COVID-19 response team.  

“In nursing, there’s a sense of community and collectiveness,” she says. “I truly believe we’re all in this together. That’s why I took the temporary position at St. Joe’s. I knew if I looked back in the future, I’d regret it if I didn’t.”

The path to psychiatric mental health.

“I’ve always had a fascination with the human psyche,” she says. “The brain is a miraculous entity and we’re continuing to follow a neurobiological basis for understanding psychiatric disorders and human behavior. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but I always knew I wanted to be a nurse.”

Before pursuing a nursing education, Weissinger earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UB in 2011. Shortly after, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing from D’Youville College.

Upon becoming a registered nurse, Weissinger worked as a charge nurse in the areas of medical/surgical, internal medicine and neuro and stroke care at Sisters of Charity Hospital for almost seven years. It was her goal to gain foundational medical/surgical background in nursing before returning to school to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. 

“The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree was always on my radar,” she explains. “I appreciated the research, leadership and policy components of this terminal degree, particularly the research domain. I loved the energy at UB and its diversity and inclusion. I missed this energy during my undergraduate studies and wanted to be a part of this again for my graduate studies.”

Weissinger believes it was the mentorship at UB SON that helped shape her role as a nurse practitioner.

“When you think of UB, you think of large lecture halls and professors requiring a microphone in order to be heard,” she says. “My cohort was small, and I felt supported from all angles, from my capstone advisor to our capstone statistics consultant; I never felt like my voice wasn’t heard. Their guidance was invaluable. UB’s SON’s innovation and research pursuits also impacted my career, from becoming a BWHET HRSA grant scholar to publishing my doctoral capstone in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.”

Weissinger graduated from UB SON’s Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program in 2019. Since then, she’s been a member of the Neuroscience Education Institute, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society and American Psychiatric Nurses Association. She’ll also be joining the UB SON faculty as an adjust professor in spring 2021.

Persevering through the pandemic.

“Working remote is tough, but it’s made us become more resilient,” she says. “ We’re still in constant communication with counselors and patients. Things may look different, but we've found innovative ways to carry out our roles. It’s also forcing us to adapt and slow down to focus on the things that really matter.”

Weissinger believes psychiatric telehealth will continue to expand beyond the pandemic.

“While some patients may not have the resources or mental fortitude to use the technology, we’re also noticing a significantly higher turnout for patients who can’t typically attend clinic in person. I would not be surprised if it continues this route now that telehealth is becoming more accepted.”

Story by Grace Gerass

Published December 10, 2020