Nursing alum’s focus on mental health leads to career in healthcare leadership

Brad Lincks headshot

Brad LincksPhoto provided

Written by: Tim Brouk,

A southern Indiana farm boy’s part-time job at Walmart cultivated a passion for helping people. That passion for helping people led to an interest in nursing, which shifted to a focus on mental health.

Today, mental health is paramount. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness. Brad Lincks’ interest in treating patients with mental illness while a Purdue University School of Nursing student in the early 1990s was somewhat ahead of the times.

“I was in a class of about 100, and nursing leadership asked us if we’d be interested in mental health as a new graduate, raise your hand,” said Lincks, who earned his Purdue nursing degree in 1995. “I raised my hand, looked around the room, and I was actually the only one in the room that raised their hand.”

After some years as a nurse working with younger patients, Lincks entered leadership roles at healthcare facilities around the Louisville, Kentucky, area. In 2019, he became CEO for SUN Behavioral Health on the Kentucky side of Cincinnati suburbs, an almost 200-bed psychiatric hospital. This summer, he moved back to Louisville to become CEO of The Brook Hospitals, a pair of facilities that offer multidisciplinary approaches to mental illness. Lincks ensures physicians, psychologists and social workers provide his nearly 200 patients the best care.

Still a licensed registered nurse, Lincks is reminded every day how crucial mental health treatment is. He also remembers the foundation of education he received in Purdue’s nursing program, which helped guide his leadership roles for the past 20 years.

How have your companies dealt with the ongoing nursing shortage?

It’s hitting a lot of hospitals hard, and in Louisville, we’re in a really competitive market. Because of the nursing shortage, we can’t open up some beds that we would love to open in order to serve the community. We’ve signed an agreement to use international nurses here. When you look at the nursing shortage, it’s not going to go away.

What first hooked you about nursing?

I really loved engaging with the patients and knowing I could do some work where I felt I could really make a difference. I’ve always been drawn to people and wanted to lend a hand where I could.

As I got into nursing, I found mental health intriguing. There’s a lot of gray area in mental health, which can be great, but it can be a major challenge as well. But I like that. I think it’s very abstract where a lot of nursing is concrete. If you work in an ICU setting, you rely on a lot of monitors to tell you what you need to do next. In our environment, it’s very palpable when you’re out there with patients. You have to have the right words at the right moment — that kind of separates someone’s skill set.

Patients come to us, and a lot of times they’re in a very bad place — whether they’re off their medications, maybe they’re intoxicated, chronically mentally ill, you name it.  

How have you combated nursing burnout?

Burnout is a real issue. That’s something we’re mindful of. I think everyone that works in our environment is mindful of that, and we need to be checking in with our teams. At times like this, communication is even more important. We try to do regular townhall meetings here where we check in with our nursing teams. We’re always making sure our nursing leaders are checking in with their teams to make sure they’re OK. Everyone has nurses working extra hours.

We have employee assistance programs where nurses can confidentially call a therapist, no charge. We tell our employees, “Take care of yourself because this is real. Everyone is impacted.”

What would you tell Purdue nursing students today who have started looking for jobs?

First, I would say, “Thank you so much for embarking on a career where you’re going to be able to give back for the rest of your career.” There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to give back to patients and teams. It’s going to be hard work, but it’s going to be work I believe that when you leave for the day, you’re going to go home tired, but you’re going to go home knowing you really made a difference today. It’s a career where you’ll probably get to wear a lot of different hats and explore different parts of nursing. It’s growing so much. There are so many different areas you can work in.