New ECU program aims to meet mental health provider shortage head on

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A new online program offered at ECU’s College of Nursing hopes to increase the number of mental health providers in North Carolina.

The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program offers students the ability to get a masters of nursing or post-master’s degree as a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse. By getting board certification, the nurse practitioners will be able to write mental health prescriptions for patients.

Psychiatric nurses without board certification can’t oversee patients as a sole provider or write prescriptions. That’s one reason Susan Wilson, who is currently a psychiatric nurse practitioner, enrolled in the program.

“It’s been a natural progression. I just want to be able to learn more and do more for my patients,” Wilson said.

By completing the program and being able to write prescriptions for patients, there will be more providers to meet a growing demand. Wilson said the wait time to see a mental health provider could decrease across the state.

Wanda Lancaster, the director of the program at ECU, said that is one of the reasons they started planning the program a decade ago.

Of the nearly 234,000 nurse practitioners currently in the U.S., less than two percent are actually certified in psychiatric or mental health care.

“We have patients waiting in emergency rooms in outlying, especially rural communities, that are there for days waiting on a psychiatric bed,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster said graduates of the program can also participate in the the telepsychiatry program started at the Brody School of Medicine, which allows patients in remote and rural areas to meet with a mental health provider via video chat.

“Prevention is really the key here, whether you’re talking about substance use disorders, or any other psychiatric illness like clinical depression,” she said.

Lancaster said they do have a shortage of mental health nurse practitioner faculty to teach the online courses.

To learn more about the programs and requirements, click here.

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