Marvin the Robot Takes SXSW Festival by Storm: Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner students meet the tech world

Marvin the School of Nursing’s telehealth robot at SXSW 2018 Festival

Each year the SXSW Festival provides a stage where the global music industry alongside film and technology professionals can strut their stuff and make personal and work-related connections as well as discover the next generation of talent. This year was no exception as Marvin the School of Nursing’s telehealth robot wheeled onto the scene, wowing visitors of the MedTech and Health Expo interactive section.

Donna Rolin, PhD, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC, clinical associate professor, and Tatyana Gustafson, CNS, PMHNP, clinical instructor, accompanied nine of their Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program students and one PhD student to the festival to set up a booth displaying research posters, mental health information, UT Austin School of Nursing program information — and Marvin.

The robot was operated remotely by the students who had it rove around the room, greeting festival participants wearing a sign that read “Ask me about psychiatric nursing.”

“Marvin was a big draw,” Rolin said. “People were so curious about the technology and how we use it to treat patients in mental health. We were able to explain how he works in our simulation lab, preparing students to provide care for people in rural areas who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access essential treatment.”

The idea to take part in the festival belongs to Ellen Bleiweiss, who graduated from the PMHNP program in May.

“Part of the PMHNP curriculum requires a review of the literature on an advanced practice clinical topic of your choosing,” she said. “One of the components of this review is to present the research at a conference or through relevant media. Since the presentation part happens during the spring, I was looking for conferences in the area and thought that SXSW, with its interactive portion renowned for new idea generation, would be an interesting place to present. The festival offered a unique opportunity to meet and talk to people about mental health and the stigma attached to it, the future of tele-psychiatry as a way of increasing access to services, and the diversity of the nursing profession.”

The PMHNP program at the UT Austin School of Nursing has been vastly successful in educating mental health care providers to address the severe shortage of mental health care providers, especially in Texas.

“It is precisely PMHNPs who often take positions in public mental health and accept patients with Medicaid and Medicare for lower reimbursement rates,” Rolin said. “Our graduates provide comprehensive care at an advanced level to individuals of all ages and their families.”

Conference attendance at the 2018 interactive, film, music and convergence sessions was 75,098. Rolin and Gustafson are already planning to take another group of students to next year’s festival.

“A huge number of people came through and interacted with us enthusiastically,” Rolin said. “We definitely would like to return to SXSW and think it would be a great idea to incorporate more simulation lab faculty and students next time.”

Ellen is interested in helping the Austin community build robust mental health services and recently accepted an offer to work on the inpatient mental health unit at Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, the first psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner the hospital has hired.

“I feel strongly that as psychiatric nurse practitioners, part of our role is community advocacy,” she said. “Being at SXSW Interactive allowed us a platform to talk about our program and our profession and reach people in a new way outside of traditional health care- and nursing-related conferences.”

Rolin reported that there was an extremely positive and welcoming response to the School of Nursing at the festival. And thanks to the PMHNP students and, of course, Marvin, festival goers left better understanding the role nurse practitioners play in addressing mental health issues in Central Texas and across the state.

May 22, 2019