Psychiatric Nursing: Nurses Training to Meet Mental Health Needs

Nate Hinkel

Sara Jones, Ph. D.

Nurses with education and training in mental health care are helping meet the needs of patients across Arkansas, and UAMS is providing the necessary resources to make that happen.

With a large unmet need for mental health services, especially in the state’s rural areas, the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner is vital to ensuring access to services.

“The future of health care is demanding a change in the way the system treats mental health, and we are a large part of the solution,” said Sara Jones, Ph.D., the psychiatric mental health specialty coordinator for the UAMS College of Nursing. “There is a great need for more highly trained professionals, especially in the rural areas where health care services are sparse.”

The psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner specialty is one of seven UAMS College of Nursing graduate programs that prepare nurses for specialty practice in advanced nursing roles.

There is a significant need to train more psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners.Dr. Pedro Delgado

Psychiatric advanced practice nurses provide primary mental health care across the state. They are able to assess and diagnose mental illness, manage medication, and provide family and group therapy as well as brief psychotherapy, among many other services. They practice in community mental health clinics, psychiatric inpatient units, hospital emergency departments, prisons and even private practices.

“The role of highly trained nurses is truly the future of health care in this state and across the country,” said Lorraine Frazier, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the UAMS College of Nursing. “Mental health is an important area, and there is a significant need to train more psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners to help meet our state’s health care needs.”

Patients traditionally rely on their primary care physicians for a referral for psychiatric care. However, a lack of availability and timeliness of an appointment with a psychiatrist can pose a risk to patients in need of care. When psychiatric nurses are in the community, availability and costliness can be vastly improved.

As part of their education, psychiatric nurses complete 540 hours of training with a psychiatrist or licensed psychiatric nurse. Jones said it is a growing program that is adding about 10 graduates to the workforce each year. “We’re the only program in the state where advanced practice nurses can learn to provide primary mental health care across the entire lifespan.”

Many family advanced practice nurses across the state, especially in rural areas, report that they see many patients with psychiatric symptoms and they don’t have many resources for referral, Jones said.

The UAMS program allows these nurse practitioners to complete the psychiatric-mental health specialty courses and apply for a post-master’s certification in mental health. In Arkansas, a psychiatric nurse is authorized to prescribe medications while in a collaborative agreement with a psychiatrist.

They can provide most psychiatric medications for depression, anxiety and psychotic disorders. Their practice greatly contributes to meeting the overwhelming need of mental health care across the state.

“Other providers all want more psych nurses because there is an extreme need for these services across Arkansas and there just aren’t enough people doing it,” Jones said.