Upstate News

April 24, 2008
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate offers new nursing practitioner program in family psychiatric mental health

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University will begin training nurses this fall to be certified as family psychiatric mental healthcare nurse practitioners in a move that officials say will bring mental healthcare to regions of rural New York where it is nearly non-existent.

“As an academic medical center, SUNY Upstate Medical University must make it a priority to respond to the healthcare needs of the communities we serve,” said SUNY Upstate President David R. Smith, M.D. “This new program provides New York with a solution that addresses directly the critical shortage of mental healthcare professionals throughout our region.”

Data from the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) at SUNY Albany shows that only 5 percent of all practicing nurse practitioners in New York state are specialized in psychiatric mental health. There are very few such certified nurse practitioners and in the 20-county Central New York region.

“The critical shortage of mental healthcare professionals in rural New York counties results in a lack of treatment, compounded by incorrect, incomplete or non-existent diagnosis of mental and behavioral health issues, especially for children,” said Elvira Szigeti, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing, which will offer the new program.

The family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is the second most sought-after nurse practitioner specialty in the state, Szigeti said. “These professionals are in demand because they bring to an underserved area skills that might not otherwise be available.”

A family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is able to provide children and adults with primary mental healthcare, including the diagnosis of mental illness, medication management and family and group therapy, as well as mental health promotion. They provide mental healthcare to families in a number of settings, including clinics, physician offices, shelters and other areas.

The need for physician extenders, especially in the area of mental health is best illustrated by noting the shortage of psychiatrists throughout the region. In Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Fulton, Lewis, Herkimer, Madison, Schuyler and Tioga counties there are fewer than five psychiatrists per 100,000 people.

Compounding the problem is the growing incidence of mental illness, especially among children. The World Health Organization estimates by year 2020 that childhood psychiatric disorders will rise proportionately by more than 50 percent to become one of the five most common causes of morbidity, mortality and disability among children.

Under the new program, students will enroll in the College of Nursing and complete two years of study, leading to a master’s degree in nursing. The program will prepare graduates to complete certification exams for psychiatric nurse practitioner administered by New York state and family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

As part of their education, students will take part in supervised clinical rotations supported by SUNY Upstate’s Department of Psychiatry, Hutchings Psychiatric Center and area county health departments.

Approvals for the degree program have been granted by SUNY and the state Education Department. The first class will enroll this fall.

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