New University of California Program Will Double Pipeline of Specialized Mental Health Providers in Response to Growing Crisis

UCSF, UC Davis, and UCLA Partner to Expand Care to Underserved Communities by Training 300 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

4/3/2020 Update: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UCSF, UC Davis and UCLA Schools of Nursing have postponed the start date for the new online post-master’s certificate option for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) from January 2020 to January 2021 (pending final approval by the UCSF Graduate Division). University of California recognizes the impact that the coronavirus is having on the public mental health system. Its goal remains to lead the way in training PMHNPs to meet California’s urgent need for mental health professionals.

With California facing an urgent and growing shortage of mental health professionals, three schools of nursing within the University of California system (UCSF, UC Davis, and UCLA) are announcing the launch today of a new online certificate program that will prepare 300 psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) by 2025. Along with psychiatrists, PMHNPs are specialized mental health providers authorized to prescribe psychotropic medications, treat severe mental illness and substance use disorders, and offer psychiatric care.

The program is being launched at a time when a shortfall in mental health providers has become widespread across California: Over 50% of people with mental illness in the state are not receiving psychiatric care — and many communities in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire have only half as many psychiatrists as do other parts of the state. A recent report from Healthforce Center at UCSF projected California will experience a 34% decline in the number of psychiatrists by 2028 — and will have 41% fewer psychiatrists than needed in the next 10 years.

The new program — the first online, post-master’s certificate program of its kind in California — is expected to nearly double the state’s current pipeline of PMHNPs between now and 2025. Graduates are expected to serve as many as 378,000 patients over the next five years.

Along with psychiatrists, PMHNPs are the only mental health providers authorized to prescribe psychotropic medications, treat severe mental illness and substance use disorders, and offer psychiatric care. There are 1,200 PMHNPs working in California. Current in-person programs, including UCSF’s existing, nationally accredited program, produce 75 to 80 PMHNPs every year. (See CHCF’s fact sheet for more details on the program.)

A 2019 report from the blue-ribbon California Future Health Workforce Commission, cochaired by University of California President Janet Napolitano, highlighted the need for immediate action to address the state’s growing mental health provider shortages. Among its top-priority recommendations, the commission called for the rapid development of a PMHNP program (PDF) to quickly recruit and train a substantial number of new mental health providers to serve in underserved rural and urban communities.

The newly launched online program achieves this goal, allowing nurse practitioners across the state to expand their certification without requiring relocation to a physical campus. Students can stay in their own communities to complete their training. Applicants will also be recruited from underserved rural and urban areas so they can better serve their communities upon program completion.

Forty students will be recruited to join the program in fall 2020, and an additional 65 students will be recruited each year for the following four years.

The program’s estimated costs over five years are expected to be $24.6 million — with tuition and fees allowing it to be self-sustaining. The development, design, and launch of the program has been supported by a $1.5 million grant from the California Health Care Foundation.

Leaders from the University of California, Newsom administration, and the California Health Care Foundation shared the statements below about the program’s impact.

Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California; Former Cochair, California Future Health Workforce Commission:

“I am delighted this innovative nursing certificate program has earned well-deserved support. As California’s population grows, further diversifies, and ages, the need for health care professionals will become more acute, including those working in mental health. As cochair of the California Future Health Workforce Commission, I believe this new funding is an important step toward growing the state’s health care workforce and bringing training to underserved regions. The commission’s work led to critical recommendations with bold solutions for boosting the statewide health workforce. This innovative program reflects those aims and addresses growing mental health needs by preparing more nurse practitioners and behavioral health professionals to serve the public.”

Tom Insel, MD, Principal Adviser, Mental Health, California Governor Gavin Newsom; Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health:

“This program could not come at a more important time. California faces an unprecedented mental health crisis, and right now, we simply do not have the workforce in place to address it. I have been traveling around the state listening to people tell me about their challenges in getting or delivering needed mental health care. I can confidently say that every community needs more health professionals who have the specialized training this program would provide. This new program will expand access to care and improve quality, and it is a vital step toward building the trained health workforce California needs.”

Catherine L. Gilliss, PhD, RN, FAAN, Dean of the UCSF School of Nursing:

“UCSF has a long history of preparing psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners to deliver quality care to patients, especially those in underserved areas. The new online program, which is a collaboration with UC Davis and UCLA, builds on this history and expands on it with the launch of a new, highly accessible education program for NPs around the state. The format will allow more NPs to be prepared and credentialed to deliver psych mental health care, wherever they live, so they can continue providing care in their own communities. Our goal is simple: Expand California’s workforce of behavioral health professionals and increase access to mental health care for Californians who need it, especially in underserved communities.”

Sandra R. Hernández, MD, President and CEO, California Health Care Foundation:

“Too many Californians have stories about long waits in waiting rooms or long drives to see a mental health specialist — or worst of all, long stretches of their lives when they didn’t have access to a mental health professional at all. This is especially true of people relying on the safety net and for those living in rural or lower-income communities. This program will have a significant impact on California’s ability to take on this problem: It will train a substantial number of much-needed mental health professionals — who can prescribe medications and treat mental illness — and it will also allow new providers to get the training they need without having to leave their communities. Once these providers are fully deployed, they will improve access to mental health care for hundreds of thousands of Californians who desperately need it.”

Carrie L. Byington, MD, Executive Vice President, UC Health:

“The University of California’s health professional schools lead the nation in innovations that support health. I am especially proud of this UC nursing initiative that will not only prepare California nurse practitioners with new skills, but will also help to address statewide mental health needs and expand future learning opportunities for our students. I look forward to beginning this work with our UC Health nursing leadership and partnering with the California Health Care Foundation in this major effort to reduce health disparities and serve Californians.”

A detailed fact sheet on the program is available.

Contact Information:
Eric Antebi
Chief Communications Officer

About the California Health Care Foundation

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.