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WGU’s College of Health Professions Launches Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program

The new competency-based degree will be offered online in Nevada and 39 other states to address the nation's critical shortage of mental health providers.

Mar 18, 2022

NEVADA – As nearly one in five U.S. adults suffers from mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders, the demand for effective mental healthcare is outpacing the availability of qualified mental healthcare providers across the country. To address this issue, the College of Health Professions at Western Governors University (WGU) announced the launch of a Master’s of Science in Nursing, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Degree.   

“The ongoing mental health crisis in the nation, coupled with the stress from the pandemic, has overwhelmed qualified mental health providers who were already in short supply,” said Jan Jones-Schenk, executive dean and senior vice president of WGU’s College of Health Professions. “Rightfully, the role of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners is expanding as greater access to mental healthcare is created, and the stigma of seeking that care subsides. We are creating new pathways for nurses to advance their careers into this exciting area of clinical practice and meet a tremendous need in our nation.” 

These pathways will be the most beneficial in Nevada, where the need for mental healthcare providers is one of the highest in the nation. According to a report published by Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit, Nevada ranks 47th in access to mental healthcare and ranks last for access to care. The study focuses on how many adults and youth have access to adequate insurance, and mental health care reveals that Nevadans have one mental health professional for every 460 people, placing the state right before Arizona, which ranks last in the country. 

A major contributing factor to the gap in mental health care access is the shortage of professionals available in the state. Professionals are retiring or resigning faster than before due to age and, most recently, burnout from the pandemic. However, additional factors such as population growth, expanding insurance coverage, and the reduced stigma around accessing mental health resources allow more people to seek care.

“Mental health resources are at a critical need in our northern Nevada community,” said Tiffany Coury, CEO of Saint Mary's Health Network. "Our healthcare system works incredibly hard to ensure patients have access to desired resources, though the availability and access are not enough to meet the demand."

Nevada's nurse practitioner field will increase by 28.5% by 2028, creating an immediate need for highly-skilled workers. As all 17 counties in Nevada are in a healthcare profession shortage, WGU Nevada's PMHNP Degree will help fill the need for trained professionals who can provide the proper resources to the state's growing population. WGU’s online competency-based model allows students to complete their degree and related certificates in only 18 to 24 months. 

“Institutions of higher learning have always played an integral role in developing workforce and talent pipelines. However, over time, the traditional pathway to degreed certification has become somewhat restricted to those with the financial resources and an abundance of time. If we are to rely on this model for workforce development solely, we run the risk of limiting sources of talent. The competency-based education model removes barriers to higher education and expands access to all. By default, the competency-based model catalyzes bringing a more diverse pool to the workforce conversation at scale. Diversity is mission-critical in mental health,” said Regional Vice President Rick Benbow. 

The courses in the program are flexible, relevant, and practical to ensure when students complete their program, they are ready to enter the workforce. WGU's flexible model means students enrolled in the PMHNP will no longer have to choose between employment or education, opening the door for a more diverse student population. The ability to earn money while upskilling or obtaining a master’s degree allows communities to build inclusive and stable workforces by addressing equity gaps and barriers to degree attainment.

“We are thrilled to learn of this new program,” added Coury. "Introducing more professionals trained in Psychiatric Mental Health will increase availability and access for those in need. This program will immediately impact the lives and well-being of the people within our community."

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, only 2.9 percent of the 192,000 credentialed nurse practitioners in the U.S. work in the psychiatric/mental health specialty area. But studies have shown that up to 96 percent of counties in the U.S. have unmet needs for mental health professions, with the most pronounced shortage being in rural areas.

The new Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree is now available to students in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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