UR School of Nursing Launches Redesigned Distance NP Program to Address Mental Health Needs

Mar. 6, 2017
Students in the School of Nursing's Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program are now able to complete nearly all course requirements online, from their homes on their own time. Under the new model, students only have to visit campus about once a semester.

In an effort to address critical shortages of mental health care providers in New York state and across the country, the University of Rochester School of Nursing has relaunched its Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program (FPMHNP) as a distance program.

“By making this change, we are allowing students to stay in their home environments and continue working, while attending school and advancing their careers,” said Susan Blaakman, PhD, RN, NPP-BC, associate professor of clinical nursing and co-director of the FPMHNP program. “Our aim is to reach enough students to significantly increase the number of advanced practice providers who are trained in mental health across the lifespan and can deliver care in areas that are in desperate need of these resources.”

According to a recent analysis by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, the need for mental health care providers is expected to grow acute over the next decade. The shortage is especially critical in rural areas, where nurses generally do not have access to traditional graduate programs in their communities.

A portion of the program’s courses have been online since 2006, but under the previous model, students were required to visit campus three times per semester. In the past year, the school has taken steps to transition more courses to the online format and now, students only have to visit Rochester about once a semester. In response to those changes, the program was recognized as an official distance learning program by New York state in late 2016.

“The redesigned program offers more flexibility for adult students who often struggle to balance work, family, and school. Since online courses can be accessed anytime, it is easier for them to work the classes into their busy schedules,” said Andrew Wolf, EdD, RN, ACNP-C, assistant professor and coordinator of educational initiatives at the School of Nursing, who helped lead the redesign of the program.

Faculty members have taken steps to ensure that the online courses are delivered in an effective, personal way, and that students feel like they have access to help when they need it.

“We have put robust strategies in place that allow students to have the face-to-face contact with faculty members that they are accustomed to,” said Holly Brown, DNP, RN, NPP, PMHCS-BC, assistant professor of clinical nursing and co-director of the FPMHNP program. “Today’s technology gives us the opportunity to bridge the distance between us and the students, so we are able to answer questions, give advice, or go over material in more detail just as we would if the program was fully on campus.” 

Certain areas of the coursework are reserved for the students’ visits to campus. Learning how to lead group therapy, for example, can be challenging in an online format, so the school has built a portion of that coursework into the in-person sessions, which Wolf described as “mini-conferences.”

A distance student in the program, Julie Apperson, RN, said the program offered an appropriate combination of independent study and face-to-face interaction with her professors.

“This program is an invaluable resource for adult learners and individuals who live in rural communities,” she said. “I found the online format of U of R’s program to be just the right mix for me. I have had many ‘real-time’ online discussions that felt just as personal to me as if we were in the classroom.”

The changes also have benefits for nurse practitioner students choosing to specialize in one of the school’s five other concentrations, such as pediatric or family nurse practitioner. As part of the redesign of the FPMHNP program, online versions of the five core nurse practitioner classes were developed. As a result, each student in the nurse practitioner program, regardless of their clinical specialty, are able to take a portion of their required coursework from a distance.

Learn more about the Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program.