UA Receives $1.7M Grant to Increase Number of Mental Health Nurse Practitioners in Rural and Border Areas

May 29, 2018

Communities outside major metropolitan areas often have little access to mental health care, but a grant recently awarded to the University of Arizona College of Nursing will give a new generation of nurse practitioners the training to work in those settings.

Thanks to funding from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program, the UA College of Nursing is launching a project to increase the number of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners in rural, border and medically underserved communities.

Over four years, the $1.7 million in funding will enable nine students each year to help pay for school and hone their skills at rural, border and medically underserved sites specially chosen for a focus on interprofessional collaborative care.

Rene Love, PhD, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, clinical associate professor and director of the UA College of Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, is principal investigator for the grant.

Rene Allen Love , PhD, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
UA College of Nursing
Rene Allen Love , PhD, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP

“Arizona has vast areas where people have limited to no access to care,” she said. “They either have to travel or they don't get services. My thought behind applying for this grant was, ‘Can we promote and help these students so they will see the value in working with patients in integrated settings in rural and medically underserved areas?’ And beyond that, ‘Can we encourage them to stay and help these patients in Arizona once they’ve graduated from the program?’”

“As Arizona’s flagship university, it is vitally important that the University of Arizona helps address the needs of our state. This includes providing quality mental health care for everybody who lives here, especially those in communities where access to care is limited,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins, MD. “I’m glad to see that the College of Nursing is helping to meet this need while also strengthening training for nurse practitioners, who hopfully will choose to serve these areas once they begin their careers.”

The project is a bold step forward for nurses in the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners field, Dr. Love said.

“A big part of this project is about learning to work with other health-care professionals. Can we collaborate to give the best possible care to people who otherwise might not receive care?" ~ Dr. Rene Love

“It’s very different from the way I learned to practice originally,” said Dr. Love, whose clinical expertise is as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. “Traditionally, a real stigma surrounded mental health. Psych providers were housed away from everyone else because no one wanted it known they (patients) were seeking mental health services.”

The funds from the grant will continue to break down those barriers: An important focus of Dr. Love’s project is to foster interprofessional collaborative care at rural facilities to which students are assigned.

“A big part of this project is about learning to work with other health-care professionals,” she said. “Can we collaborate to give the best possible care to people who otherwise might not receive that care?”

Another unique element of the study involves the length of training students will receive at the sites, which include facilities in northern Arizona and outside Tucson, as well as in New Mexico and Oregon. Training will happen at one site for at least six months to support understanding of interprofessional care in rural and medically underserved locations. Typically, students participating in clinical practice move to several sites in different geographic locations and might spend no more than one semester at a single location.

“Students really will be immersed in a community of practice that will give them knowledge they might not gain at other places,” Dr. Love says.

In addition, the collaborative aspect of the study will be stressed: Students will be encouraged to attend staff meetings with other health-care professionals to help foster a team perspective. Their training also will involve working on assessments, diagnosis and treatment, giving students a thorough exposure to the challenges and rewards of working in underserved communities. Dr. Love hopes they will be inspired by their experiences and choose to seek work in those same communities following graduation.

Nine inaugural students are set for placement in the program in 2018. One of those students, Catherine Clare Dockery-Jackson, is in the final year of the specialty program and has high hopes for her time in the newly created program.

“It will allow me to experience an integrative care practice that addresses the patient more completely,” she says. “For me, nursing has always been a holistic discipline, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the clinical site will address a patient’s mental and physical needs.”