Becky Sobanski

Ready to Roll

After five years with the Brewcity Bruisers roller derby league, Bexit Wound wasn’t about to let a broken ankle keep her off skates for long. As soon as her ankle healed, she made the league’s travel team, only to break her other ankle during practice. It would end her career as a competitive roller derby athlete, but the newly minted nurse (real name: Becky Sobanski ’16) stayed at the rink as tournament medic.

“I’m still heartbroken that I’m not skating anymore. But even though I’m retired, I love that I can give back to the team,” says Sobanski, who bandages cuts and assesses concussions and injuries during the rough-and-tumble matches of the local women’s and men’s roller derby teams.

It wasn’t the first time that Sobanski rolled in an unexpected direction. During her 30s, she went from working as a nursing home social worker to an Apple store manager to a nurse practitioner. Now an assistant professor of nursing at Alverno, she leads the College’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program.

Sobanski was always drawn to helping others: she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and later earned a master’s degree in community counseling from Marquette University. She started working in tech support at a local Apple store to pay the bills and, seven years later, was overseeing the tech support team.

“It was this really cool job combining technical skills with my counseling skills because people would come in crying, angry and stressed,” she says. One day, she flipped through a coworker’s nursing textbook out of curiosity and had an epiphany: She wanted to return to the medical field and become a nurse.

Alverno’s PMHNP program offered her the perfect way to meet the community needs she first noticed during her counseling clinicals.

“I became frustrated because people would come in for therapy and they weren’t doing well. Their depression was not controlled, and there was no continuity of care between their therapist and psychiatrist to address it. I felt stuck and wishing I could do more for these patients,” she says. “Being a PMHNP is the perfect blend of my psychology and nursing backgrounds because now I have the knowledge and ability to help in ways I couldn’t before. I’m finally able to do something about this problem I identified years ago by being able to prescribe medications in a therapy-based setting. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

As awareness around mental health grows, so does demand for expert care. In addition to her full-time role at Alverno, Sobanski works 30 hours a week at American Behavioral Clinics, where she treats patients with depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD and other mental health concerns.

Although she didn’t anticipate returning to Alverno to teach quite so soon after graduation, she seized the opportunity. “It’s wonderful because I’m fresh out of the program and can easily relate to the student’s perspectives and be their advocate while at the same time balancing the role of faculty and director,” she says. “Alverno’s whole philosophy of teaching is so inspiring. I truly feel like this is my calling and that my entire career has been leading up to this.”

Since Sobanski graduated in 2016, Alverno’s PMHNP program has grown from two students to 23. That trend continues — she’s already adding class sections to meet demand.

“The interest is not slowing down,” says Sobanski, who has received applications from students as far away as Saudi Arabia. “People recognize the need for mental health providers and want to make a difference. Alverno has an amazing program that is unique to Wisconsin, and now we have the opportunity to keep growing and improving it.”

What is a nurse practitioner?

  • Nurse practitioners, or NPs, provide comprehensive health care, filling a gap between the number of primary care physicians and the number of patients.
  • Those who specialize in mental health can assess, diagnose and treat mental illness. They can also write prescriptions, provide psychotherapy and offer preventive care.
  • Amid a growing demand for mental health services, the number of PMHNPs practicing in the U.S. is expected to grow to 17,900 from 13,815 by 2025, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Alverno Magazine.

Alverno offers a number of programs for nurses looking to advance their practice, including a Master of Science in Nursing, post-master’s certificates and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. To learn more, click here.

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