Psychiatric mental health program aims to meet growing need for specialized professionals

·4 min read
UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing & Health Sciences' new MSN – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration is designed to meet the rising demand for mental health care providers. The concentration will prepare nurses to take an integrated behavioral healthcare approach to assess, diagnose, and develop treatment plans for patients.
UL Lafayette’s College of Nursing & Health Sciences' new MSN – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration is designed to meet the rising demand for mental health care providers. The concentration will prepare nurses to take an integrated behavioral healthcare approach to assess, diagnose, and develop treatment plans for patients.

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression around the world increased by 25%, according to the World Health Organization, increasing, in turn, the already great need for mental health-care providers.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette aims to help meet that growing need by restoring the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentration in its nursing graduate program.

Licensed registered nurses can apply to the MSN – psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentration, as well as family nurse practitioner and nursing education concentrations, for fall 2022 admission.

The program has been on hiatus because of a lack of faculty qualified to teach at the graduate level. In addition to the shortage of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, even fewer are doctoral prepared and interested in working in academia when they are so needed in practice, according to a spokesperson for the university.

Addie Snyder, 37, was among the last class to graduate from the program in 2017 before its pause. She took classes online from 2013 to 2017 after a full day's work as a nurse and being a mom to a toddler.

"It was like my third shift," Snyder said.

Today owns and practices as a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Willow Mental Wellness & Recovery in Carencro. The clinic also includes a psychiatrist and three psychotherapists.

"The need is always there, especially in the rural areas," Snyder said. "Even just with COVID, there is so much more anxiety. We need to be available."

But they can't do it alone. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 7,000 practitioners are needed nationwide to meet communities' needs for psychiatric mental health care.

"Right now if you call a mental health provider you are going to have a wait or to get into a Medicaid Rehab, you'll have a wait," she said. "If we had more providers we would help bridge that gap."

Addressing these shortages to improve the health and wellbeing of Louisiana is core to the mission of UL's College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Dean Melinda Oberleitner said.

"Preparing nurse practitioners to face these challenges and provide care to underserved communities is central to how we achieve that mission," Oberleitner said.

'A different side of health care'

The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentration prepares nurses to take an integrated behavioral healthcare approach to assess, diagnose and develop treatment plans for patients, from childhood through adulthood, according to a release.

Psychiatric mental health certified nurse practitioners can provide treatment — including therapy or medication — through telehealth, hospitals, treatment centers or their own clinics, like Snyder.

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Snyder had already been through school and worked as a nurse four years before she went back to school for her master's. She'd always known she wanted to become a nurse practitioner but didn't know which specialty to choose until she saw a psychiatric nurse practitioner in action.

"That really inspired me," Snyder said. "I saw a different side of healthcare. I saw that the mental is just as important as the physical. We often miss that."

The 48-credit-hour psychiatric mental health nursing program includes online advanced practice nursing coursework in theory, pharmacotherapeutics, evidence-based practice approaches, health policy, and primary care, as well as specific courses in psychiatric mental health advanced practice including diagnosis, psychopharmacology, and psychotherapy.

Students also must complete a minimum of 600 precepted, direct patient care clinical hours in Louisiana, according to the university.

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"When these nurses graduate, they can expect to use everything they learned in getting their education," said Abby McNeil, an assistant professor in the college's LHC Group Myers School of Nursing. "When you're approaching someone who has psychiatric illness, you have to take a holistic approach and look at their whole body."

McNeil is dual certified as a family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She has spent most of her career as a practitioner and educator focused on increasing mental health care access.

"It's so important that we educate and get trained psych mental health nurse practitioners into the field so that we can see more patients because access just isn't there the way it should be," McNeil said.

Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: UL Lafayette aims to meet growing need for mental health professionals