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Elizabeth Robinson: Troubled youth and tenderness

Treating the young requires strengthening their mental health and life skills.

Boston Medical Center nurse Elizabeth Robinson has spent most of her career helping children, but the challenge she took on recently went beyond just medical childcare. It required her to not only act as a nurse but also as an advocate and mentor to teens and young adults who need help finding their way in the world.

“I really enjoy that young adult population,” says the 33-year-old Buffalo, NY, native, who took over as the nurse manager for a Boston Medical Center clinic eight months ago.

The clinic, known as CATALYST (for the Center for Addiction Treatment for Adolescent Young adults who use SubsTances,) treats substance users who are between 13 and 24 years old and have other issues in their young lives.

“There are limited resource[s] for youth and adults so it’s important we have this program,” Robinson says. The clinic provides a safe haven for about 70 young people seeking mental health and substance use treatment.

Still, the job has its challenges. 

“What can be difficult is trying to navigate and connect patients with the resources they need in a timely fashion,” she says, adding that many patients are “just learning life skills, which can be problematic if they don’t have someone to guide them.”

Elizabeth Robinson, nurse at Boston Medical Center, smiles for the camera.
Elizabeth Robinson, nurse at Boston Medical Center. Photo by Aisha McAdams.

So along with providing patients with medical treatments, therapy, and sometimes food and shelter, Robinson and others on the staff also teach them the skills they need to hold down a job, get an education, and make their way through life. 

“We try not to just make it about their substance use. We want them to know they are much more than that,” Robinson says. “We try to connect them to housing, to jobs that are youth oriented and structured, and to outside resources to help them establish a sense of community.”

Because teenage patients and those in their early 20s often are distrustful of authority figures — even medical personnel — they sometimes balk at the offer of help. That’s why clinic staffers are committed to open and truthful communication with their patients, Robinson says.

The goal of that communication is to get teenagers and young adults the treatment and support they need while also helping them gain the skills that are necessary to navigate in the world.

Co-worker Juliana Scherer, a counselor at the facility, says Robinson’s presence has made an enormous difference in the staff’s outlook. “From day one, Liz [has] formed trusting and compassionate relationships with patients who reach out to her for support with everything from housing to STD testing,” Scherer writes in a letter to The Boston Globe.

Nothing is too daunting or too menial for Robinson, Scherer says. “No matter what, she’s organized and efficient, bright and strategic, and always a pleasure to be around.”

Robinson credits the clinic’s success to the dedicated staffers who make it all worthwhile. “I could not do this if it wasn’t for others on the team,” she says, modestly. “They make it possible.”

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