When Gregory Jones was still a boy, he spent hours in the library helping his mother find articles for her dissertation as she earned her doctorate in nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Gregory is currently pursuing his Doctor of Nursing Practice – Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree at the University of Kansas School of Nursing.
Lucinda (Cindy) Whitney, DNP, APRN, clinical assistant professor at the KU School of Nursing, said she met Jones in 2018 at the Kansas State American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) meeting. “He came to do training for our department, and I was so impressed with Gregory that I encouraged him to explore KU for his DNP education.”
Both Jones and his mother, Deborah E. Jones, Ph.D., were inducted into Sigma, an exclusive nursing honor society that appoints honorees based on exemplary grades and leadership qualities. Gregory was inducted in a virtual ceremony in 2020, while his mother was inducted 20 years ago.
The Sigma article originally shared the story of two generations of nurses; this version focuses on Gregory, who is completing his DNP online at the KU School of Nursing from his home in Washington state.
Jones recently gave up his lunch break at the APNA conference in Long Beach, Calif., to answer these questions about his decision to pursue a career in nursing.
Q: So why did you decide to follow in your mom’s footsteps and get a degree in nursing?
Jones: One of the reasons I decided to pursue a nursing degree is because I knew I would have the opportunity to develop my own altruistic path. I believe we need to impact the world through servant leadership. I knew leaving was the formula for this opportunity because I had already seen her do magical things in her career. She truly challenged the status quo, changing the game and advancing the discipline in groundbreaking ways. Thanks to her, I realized that I have the same ability.
Q: Why is it important to you to be a change agent, to provide that leadership?
Jones: Our nation’s behavioral health system is broken, and as mental health has become a topic of public discussion, we finally have an opportunity to address some of the gaps and engage stakeholders. The DNP (program) really gave me a platform to learn theories, innovate and put them into practice. We can take the options available and spread them not only in the academic arena, but across the industry.
Q: So how do you put these behavioral health theories into practice?
Jones: We are opening a peer-to-peer recreation center in Tacoma, Washington. It is a voluntary alternative to psychiatric hospitalization or an emergency room for people in need of mental health care, a 24-hour facility staffed by peer counselors, all experienced in overcoming personal challenges. And people will be able to go there if they are dealing with a stressful situation or some form of mental disorder. It’s just the kind of alternative we desperately need in this country.
Q: Are recreation centers peer-to-peer?
Jones: We’re going to be the first in the Pacific Northwest.
Q: How did the idea to open the center come about?
Jones: For a long time, the peer support community in Washington has been very strong, and there has been much advocacy for more recovery-oriented solutions for outpatient behavioral health. I participated in this activity for a while. I made art installations to commemorate those who were let down by the system. I established my presence in the peer counseling community … and eventually I wrote a grant with my mother (for the center) to get funding.
Q: So how do you manage to maintain a strong mother-son relationship under the pressure of a new venture like this?
Jones: I just lean on her when I need help. It’s not like we went into business together. While I was figuring out what it would be like to work in Washington, and when things started to pick up and I couldn’t handle all the demands on my own, she was there to help. She just wants me to be successful.
Q: How did you come to pursue behavioral health as a career focus?
Jones: When I graduated from nursing school, I went to live with Native Americans in Arizona and was on a reservation for two years. The elders told me, “You know, you have a real knack for psychiatric situations. We want you to specialize in this.’ And in my research on psychiatric care, I learned that crisis stabilization was at the fore.
Q: In the Sigma article, your mother mentioned that you originally wanted to be a funeral director. What made you change your mind and become a nurse?
Jones: (Laughs) I realized it would hold me back. I felt called not only to bring value to the community, but also to the entire country. Nursing allows me to create logical things, collaborate with like-minded people and have similar aspirations for society.