by Barry Waldman
Nearly one in five of us, or 66 million people, has a mental health condition, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. That number grows every year, yet the number of mental health providers, already low, has hardly increased over the last two decades. Indeed, more than half the counties in the country – rural counties like those surrounding the Lowcountry – have zero psychiatrists and one third of the nation lives in a place designated as a mental health professional shortage area.
According to the state, South Carolina’s coastal counties are not in a mental health professional shortage situation for the general population, but are so for low-income residents.
Many nurse practitioners see the desperate need for mental health services for patients in their practices. Prospective mental health patients will find they have to wait for appointments with providers for as long as six months in the Lowcountry. Some practices have stopped taking new patients altogether, particularly if there is a need to write prescriptions for mood-altering drugs.
MUSC Certification for Advanced Practice Nurses
For advanced practice nurses here in the Charleston area and around the country interested in adding a specialty in psychiatric mental health to their toolbox, MUSC has established a course that will provide them with board certification. Now in its second year, the intensive four-semester program offers asynchronous online classes and the required 500+ hours of clinical practice to earn certification. The three clinical rotations must cover the lifespan and include psychiatric mental health services aimed at pediatric, adult and elderly populations respectively.
“It’s pretty intense and a lot of work,” notes Dr. Angie Powers, director of the Psychiatric Mental Health Lifespan Certification program.
The program is open only to nurses who have already earned their master’s in nursing practice. Some have doctorates as well, or are currently in a doctoral program. The curriculum “meets the current recommendations of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2006) and the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (2013),” according to MUSC.
With the certification, graduates become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) – advanced practice nurses who are not medical doctors but take on many similar responsibilities as psychiatrists. They help patients with the full range of mental health issues and earn an average of the low $100,000s, according to multiple recruiting agencies.
The Curriculum for Certification
The MUSC program is now in its second cohort, with the first group scheduled to graduate at the end of this spring. One student in the first cohort was working with a pediatric population as a family nurse practitioner and saw the need to provide psychiatric mental health services to his patients. He added the coursework and clinicals to his full-time responsibilities and now has a new position in psychiatric mental health with the same employer lined up after graduation. He will be able to provide the services his patients desperately needed but had difficulty accessing before he graduated.
Students in MUSC’s psychiatric mental health lifespan certification take courses such as neuroscience, psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. Wherever students are taking the course online, they must come to Charleston for four days each semester for intensive advanced care management courses. Students access the program from as far as Maine and Colorado, said Dr. Powers.
Applications are being accepted now for the start of the third cohort in January of 2023. They are due in the fall. For more information, contact Dr. Angie Powers at [email protected] or 843-792-2518.