The University of Texas at Tyler announced that it is addressing the mental health challenges in the state with a new program in the School of Nursing.

The Master of Science in Nursing–Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program was recently approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Pending final approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, UT Tyler may launch the program as early as summer 2020.

“As has been well documented, forecasts are predicting significant increases in psychiatric/mental health care needs,” said Dr. Yong “Tai” Wang, UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences dean. “Rural areas will be even more at risk due to the misdistribution of health providers who choose to live and work in urban locations.

“The Master of Science in Nursing-Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree will meet a crucial need in East Texas and the state.”

Funded by UT Tyler’s InTune Health Resources and Services Administration advanced nursing education grant, the program will be offered primarily online with facilitation of clinical experiences in students’ local communities. The program will offer both the master’s and post-master’s certificate options.

“Our program will highlight telehealth, mobile medical clinic management and disaster management, and it will provide rural health clinic opportunities so students can be efficiently and effectively prepared to meet the health care needs of vulnerable populations with limited resources,” said UT Tyler associate professor Dr. Carol Rizer, project director for the InTune grant.

The new program will be prepared to diagnose and treat common psychiatric disorders for patients across the life span and to offer short-term psychotherapy. Additionally, graduates will learn advanced physical assessment skills, which include administering prescriptive psychotropic medications, psychotherapy, crisis intervention, case management and consultation.

“Mental health is increasingly part of the primary care providers’ wheelhouse, especially in rural areas. This program will provide them with the expertise they need to plan care for complex individuals who often have multiple health care needs,” said Dr. Sandra Petersen, UT Tyler professor and proposed program director. “Given our expertise in distance education, we will be able to offer this program online for the busy working professional who wants to add this specialty to their resume.”

More than 500,000 Texans suffer from serious and persistent mental illness and 1 in 5 Texans experience a mental health condition each year.

While lawmakers locally and statewide are working to allocate more money toward mental health services, there are not enough health care providers to meet the mental health needs of the growing population, Petersen said.

“The PMHNP is uniquely prepared to bridge the gap between physical and mental health care. A PMHNP is able to deliver targeted psychiatric care while screening, identifying and monitoring physical co-morbid medical problems,” she said.

Graduates of the PMHNP specialty are eligible to sit for the American Nurses Association Credentialing Center psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner exam. Upon exam completion, the PMHNP is then entitled to apply for prescriptive privileges as an advanced practice nurse, according to state licensure laws in Texas.

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