In January 2017, Frontier Nursing University began offering a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) degree option. As has been the case throughout FNU’s history, this decision was made in response to the country’s healthcare needs. The need for more mental health providers is significant and ever-increasing.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), 160 million Americans live in one of the nation’s 6,063 mental health professional shortage areas. HRSA estimates that the U.S. needs an additional 8,024 mental health providers to fill these shortage gaps. Approximately two-thirds of the shortage areas are in rural or partially rural parts of the country.
“We must bridge the gap and increase the accessibility of mental health providers in this country,” said Dr. Kevin Scalf, DNP, PMHNP-BC, CNEcl, who serves as FNU’s Department Chair of the PMHNP Program. “Mental health plays a crucial role in an individual’s health and quality of life, regardless of age, geographical location, or culture. In order to decrease morbidity and mortality, qualified mental health providers must be available to meet the demands of our diverse population.”
Severe mental illness, defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is a mental illness that interferes with a person’s life and ability to function. According to NIMH, in 2021, 14.1 million American adults (5.5%) had SMI. Of those adults with SMI, 9.1 million (65.4%) received mental health treatment in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light and exacerbated mental health issues for many. A 2022 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that there was a significant increase in mental health problems in the general population in the first year of the pandemic and that the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 was higher among people living with mental disorders.
Making matters worse, access to care is limited for many. Barriers include provider shortages, national and state regulations and policies that limit mental health care delivery, and insurance companies that limit reimbursement for mental health care. In many states, PMHNPs are not allowed to practice independently and must be supervised by a physician. This creates an additional hurdle to access to mental health care.
The increased use of telehealth has provided greater access to care for some, but many still struggle to find accessible and culturally concordant care. These are the types of gaps that FNU’s curriculum, combined with its commitments to rural and underserved populations and diversity, equity, and inclusion, are designed to address.
FNU’s PMHNP graduates represent a growing part of the solution to this national problem. As of January 2023, FNU has graduated 933 PMHNPs from 49 states. FNU’s board pass rate for PMHNP students is 93%, which is 7% percent above the national average. FNU’s MSN graduates achieved a first-time pass rate of 96% in 2022, which ranked FNU in the top 3% of schools nationwide.
“Frontier’s PMHNP program is preparing students to address urgent mental health care needs in their communities,” Dr. Scalf said. “Students have the opportunity to immerse themselves into the role of the PMHNP by engaging in rigorous academic preparation, including simulation activities involving standardized patients. By participating in simulation activities, students have an opportunity to optimize critical thinking and apply knowledge and skills to patient care scenarios. FNU has always emphasized the health of the community and family. Good mental health is a prerequisite for healthy families and communities. The impact of the PMHNP program promises to grow exponentially over the next five years and beyond.”
Visit this link to learn more about the PMHNP program.
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