Donna Primera

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate, ‘22G
Donna Primera
The Heart of Time- 

Drawn to the adrenaline-packed experience of caring for emergency patients in accident and disaster zones, Donna Primera started her career as a hospital flight nurse. One of her missions involved flying into the Baton Rouge area after a devastating hurricane to assist with the rescue and helicopter evacuation of injured patients. “It was tremendously rewarding to help so many people during the worst moments of their lives.”

This exciting experience was the underpinning for an eventual pivot to emergency care nursing but, after working in various hospitals around the country, Donna realized that a critical element was missing. Although the traditional ER successfully triages and manages patients’ physical health, she feels that their psychiatric needs are often unidentified or untended. Many patients struggling with mental health problems return to the hospital in an unproductive repeat cycle.

An alumnus of the University of Alabama-Huntsville with a BS in Nursing, Primera enrolled several years later in the MSN Family Nurse Practitioner program of Wilmington University in Delaware, graduating in 1995. After witnessing the destructive ripple effects of alcohol dependency on family life, Donna committed her medical career to patients struggling with addictions. The daughter of a Navy officer, she welcomed the opportunity to become Director of Mental Health for the Coatsville Veterans Administrative Medical Center in Pennsylvania and combine her joint interests of healthcare and veteran support.

Over time, Donna found that the administrative demands of a large, multi-layered environment detracted from the core of her professional mission so she accepted a position with Seabrook, a recovery center in New Jersey, to work with a collaborative group of providers offering inpatient addiction services in a rural setting. Subsequently relocating to New Hampshire, Primera joined the Green Mountain Treatment Center as a nurse practitioner and was later promoted to Associate Medical Director.

"To keep pace with career options, my mother returned to school in her forties – alongside three of her college age children – to complete both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing. Her role model was instrumental in my decision to return to school in my sixties to update my practitioner skills."

Three and a half decades after earning a master’s degree, Primera enrolled in the online UNH Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program, graduating in 2022. After completion, she accepted a position as PMHNP for Life Stance Health in New Hampshire, an outpatient mental health clinic that offers providers an accommodating mix of office hours, remote work, and telehealth consultations.

"The UNH PMHNP online program curriculum was impressive and the asynchronous class format gave me the freedom to process course materials at my own pace. The university staff helped me overcome the hurdle of mastering the online learning technology and I set aside several hours every day to read, complete assignments and contribute to discussion boards. Impressed by the training in cognitive behavior therapy, I have integrated this technique into my own approach to patient care. Dividing our cohort into two study sections fostered a tightly knit group that continues today as a peer support system. Mental healthcare has always been a rewarding career and the UNH program gave me a terrific opportunity to improve my professional skills."

Musing about the extent to which mental health intertwines with all aspects of healthcare, high on Primera’s personal “make-a-wish list” would be a requirement that medical schools offer an elective course in addictions aimed to help providers better understand the full spectrum of patient needs. Donna also notes with pride that, as a third-year medical resident, her daughter shadowed her mother’s workday during a four-week elective rotation that opened the window to a deeper understanding of the nuances of care.

Committed to a career that teaches the inherent importance of self-care, Primera enjoys the company of her family and two beloved dogs. With her clear-minded focus on fulfillment at home and on the job, the passage of time has never stopped Donna from following her heart.


                                                                                                                        Written by Gwendolyn Goguelet