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As an independent psychiatric mental health practitioner, Nicole Bennett, DNP, PMHNP-BC ’09 had firsthand experience of the challenges of individual practice. At risk of burnout and frequently unable to work at the top of her license, Bennett envisioned a clinical practice model that delivered optimal patient care while also allowing the provider to take care of her or himself.

Along with her business partner, Anna Long MSN ’07, PMHNP-BC, Bennett founded Willamette Health and Wellness (WHW) in 2013. “We planned to start small,” she said, recalling an initial team of five providers and staff.

Bennett credits Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline as the text that started the small practice on the course it maintains today. “Reading it during my doctoral training was an eye-opener,” she said. “The concept of a learning organization that refreshed and re-invented itself through a continuous cycle of input meshed so perfectly with our vision of growth and change.”

Introduced into the practice eight years ago, Senge’s model plays out today in all aspects of WHW’s operations. “Each workplace group, from clinical to operations management and billing, sees our work through a unique lens,” Bennett says. “They know that they can bring forward challenges and opportunities for growth and change that bring us closer to our mission. Our job is to create the space that allows for vulnerability, that acknowledges that we are human and that things will not always be easy.”

“Our job is to create the space that allows for vulnerability, that acknowledges that we are human and that things will not always be easy.”

Nicole Bennett, DNP, PMHNP-BC ’09

When the COVID-19 pandemic took firm hold in the U.S. in March 2020, Bennett and her colleagues were forced to re-think their model of care in an environment that was likely to significantly increase demand for their services. It was quickly apparent that the Learning Organization model they had adopted in 2013 would be the key that held the practice together in challenging times.

“We already had in place much of the support that our patients and our teams needed,” Bennett said. “Process changes such as the move to telehealth were so much easier because we had already embraced process change and feedback-informed treatment for so long.”

Patient feedback is equally as essential as staff feedback in the WHW model. “We ask for input regardless of any concerns we may have about what that feedback will be,” said Bennett. “Our patients feel as invested in our learning as we do, and they know the billing staff, the front desk team and the clinicians in a way that we will never know each other.”

Bennett has visions of providing for a greater diversity of clients in the coming years, planning to grow and strengthen more equitable access to care. But growth will not come at the expense of the practice’s founding values. “This is always about human beings,” she said.

Nicole Bennett, DNP, PMHNP-BC ’09 is the OHSU School of Nursing Alumni Association’s Alumna of the Year for 2020. A graduate of the acclaimed Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education program, she received her award at the OHSU School of Nursing Winter Completion Ceremony in December 2020. Dr. Bennett was nominated by Margaret Scharf, DNP, PMHNP, FNP, OHSU Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program Director.