A new online program launched this semester by ECU’s College of Nursing is poised to help the region address its shortage of mental health care professionals. Graduates of the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program will earn a Master of Nursing Science (MSN) degree or a post-master’s certificate as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, of the nearly 234,000 nurse practitioners in the United States, only 1.8 percent are certified in psychiatric and mental health care. In 2012, the North Carolina Medical Journal reported that 95 percent of all North Carolina counties had an unmet need for medical providers who can prescribe psychiatric medications — a deficit that psychiatric nurse practitioners are able to fill.
For patients enrolled in government sponsored health insurance programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, it can be even harder to access mental health care. The National Council for Behavioral Health reported in March that 40 percent of psychiatrists do not accept third-party reimbursements.
“I was in private practice for 20 years, so I can appreciate that,” said Wanda Lancaster, the director of the new program. “But we know this special population struggles with issues such as substance abuse or schizophrenia and tend to not have insurance. And nurse practitioners are more likely to be in clinics that accept Medicaid and Medicare.”
Lancaster said the program will have a special emphasis in treating patients that suffer from substance abuse, severe and persistent mental illness, and PTSD. Several of the students will be placed in Veterans Affairs hospitals to complete their clinical hours as well as area state psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, and detox centers.
“This is going to help the people of eastern North Carolina and across the state,” said Lancaster. “Because right now psychiatric beds are limited due to a great staffing shortage. This is causing issues for local emergency rooms with mental health patients spending days waiting on bed availability.”
Lancaster said completing ECU’s new program gives students an opportunity to gain an in-depth education and clinical experience in psychiatric care that “elevates the scope and standard of practice.” This will enable students to take the national certification exam, which ensures quality and competence and is now required for reimbursement in this specialty.
The program is only open to residents of North Carolina and admission preference is given to those currently practicing in mental health settings or who plan to deliver direct mental health care upon graduation. Currently, there are 13 post master’s certificate students and nine MSN students enrolled in the program.
For more information about the program visit http://www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/nursing/masters_pmh.cfm
-by Angela Todd, University Communications