In collaboration with the University of Colorado, Denver (UCD), the University of New Mexico (UNM) College of Nursing will be launching a post-master’s certificate program to become a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner. The program which is expected to begin in Spring 2017 is designed for master’s prepared nurse practitioners and nurse midwives to add the knowledge and skills for assessment, diagnosis, and management of mental illness to their scope of practice.

The program, titled Collaborative Advanced Psychiatric Education Exchange (CO-APEX), is funded by a $1.94 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to address disparities in mental health practitioner distribution around New Mexico. Web-based program courses will be offered in collaboration with UCD, but UNM nursing faculty will provide clinical oversight to students and students will receive their degree from UNM.

Several factors are driving the initiative to place a mental health nurse practitioner program in New Mexico specifically. People suffering from psychiatric mental illness are vastly underserved, especially in rural areas, and rural New Mexico populations have some of the poorest access to behavioral health providers in the country. New Mexico also has a suicide rate 59 percent higher than the US average, and rates of alcohol-related deaths and drug overdose deaths are also much higher.

Michael Rice, PhD, director of the CO-APEX project at UCD, says the HRSA grant is based on the reality that there is no health without mental health care. Behavioral health care needs in Colorado and New Mexico are highlighted by death statistics: Colorado ranks sixth for adolescent suicide and New Mexico has the fourth highest suicide rate overall. Mental health services are often not readily available in these two states due to the vast distances of rural populations so the CO-APEX grant will directly focus on training culturally competent psychiatric nurse practitioner to meet the mental health care needs of the underserved.

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