Training Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
While mental health problems are among the most common health conditions faced by Californians, nearly two-thirds of people with these conditions don’t receive treatment. In California, one barrier is a growing shortage of mental health care providers. In particular, the state’s psychiatrist workforce is projected to decrease by one-third by 2028 while population needs continue to increase. This is a significant concern since psychiatrists are specially trained in treating severe mental illness or substance use disorders, and managing the medications that patients with these conditions may need.
As the number of psychiatrists declines, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners — or PMHNPs — can play a critical role in the behavioral health workforce. PMHNPs are advance practice registered nurses with additional certification who can diagnose and treat mental health and substance use disorders as well as prescribe and manage psychiatric medications. They also conduct counseling crisis intervention, and family and couples therapy. Under their licenses, PMHNPs can provide care in a wide range of settings, including primary care clinics, where many people receive their mental health care. Compared to physicians, nurse practitioners are more likely to serve rural and underserved populations.
The issue has been training. In recent years, California was graduating only 75–80 people from PMHNP programs annually. In its 2019 report, the California Future Health Workforce Commission called for the rapid development of a PMHNP program to recruit and train 300 new PMHNPs by 2025, which would nearly double the current pipeline of these clinicians.
In 2020, three schools of nursing within the University of California system (UCSF, UCLA, and UC Davis) launched a one-year certificate program to reach this goal. Because the new program is mostly online — there are just three in-person sessions — it gives advanced practice registered nurses across the state the opportunity to gain PMHNP certification without relocating. Students can remain in their own communities to complete the clinical training portion of the curriculum.
The first class of students was slightly delayed in starting their program by the COVID-19 pandemic. They finished their certificate training in late 2021, and a new class started in early 2022.
CHCF is proud to support the development of the program and its curriculum. In addition, the foundation is supporting the creation of a multicampus collaborative office, located at UC Davis. That office will manage joint accreditation of the certificate program across all three UC campuses, as well as strategies for clinical placements and long-term sustainability.
To apply, please visit the UCSF School of Nursing website.
A two-page fact sheet describing the program is available in Document Downloads below.