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Published on September 09, 2013
Dr. Kerry Kokaisel, left and charge nurse Ruby Windham discuss a case in the child psychiatry inpatient unit.
Dr. Kerry Kokaisel, left and charge nurse Ruby Windham discuss a case in the child psychiatry inpatient unit.

School of Nursing program filling the void for psychiatric nursing

By Matt Westerfield

Media Contact: Public Affairs

Dr. Kerry Kokaisel is unique at the University of Mississippi Medical Center: She’s the one and only psychiatric nurse practitioner on campus.

But that might not be the case for long. As the need for psychiatric/mental health providers in Mississippi and across the nation grows, the School of Nursing is rapidly gaining ground in training nurses to fill the gap.

In 2007 there were 42 psychiatric nurse practitioners in the state. The following year the School of Nursing joined forces with four other universities across the state in a collaboration to bolster access to advanced care for Mississippians with mental health issues, as well as elderly patients, known as the Mississippi Educational Consortium for Specialized Advanced Practice Nursing (MECSAPN). As a result of that effort, by 2011 that number had climbed to 79 psychiatric NPs addressing the needs of Mississippians (the most recent year for statistics available from the Mississippi Board of Nursing).

“People have begun to see what psychiatric NPs can do,” said Kokaisel, an employee in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and part-time instructor in the School of Nursing. “And regional health centers across the state want our graduates because there are not enough psychiatric health providers.”

The need for mental-health professionals in Mississippi mirrors the need nationwide, but here, Kokaisel says, there simply aren’t enough health-care providers who have psychiatric training to get the job done. MECSAPN links UMMC with Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women and the University of Southern Mississippi to provide the same level of specialty training to nurse practitioner students around the state in part to keep those specialists in their hometown communities.

“Many of the nurses who have shown interest in the Psychiatric/Mental Health program are frontline nurses from around the state,” Kokaisal said, “because they’re seeking that training to treat the patients they’re encountering.”

And those patients present a wide spectrum of mental-health issues, from depression, oppositional defiant disorder, after effects of domestic violence and ADHD.

For the first year of the collaborative course offering, there were three students in the psychiatric program, said Dr. Cynthia Luther, assistant professor of nursing and director of the consortium. “This summer, there were 18 students. And when I look at the students who are currently working on their core courses, we will have 20 students completing the track in the next few years,” she said.

Which outpaces the 12-student classes they originally anticipated, Luther said.

“There’s a growing acknowledgment that mental-health problems exist, and there’s less of a stigma involved with seeking treatment,” Luther said. “You’re going to come into contact with mental illness in your circle of friends or family at some point in your life, whether it is a child with ADHD or friend with depression.”

The success of MECSAPN is not only that it has trained dozens of nurses to provide mental health care, but that it has done so while keeping those nurses in their home communities around the state. Mississippi has 15 regional health centers, operated by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, which provide preceptor training for nursing
g students.

Additionally, Kokaisal said UMMC’s psychiatry department is working with Mississippi Children’s Home Services to provide home-based adolescent care, which is a neglected age group in the state in terms of mental health.

Furthermore, she said, Dr. Grayson Norquist, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, is looking to expand telepsychiatry services around the state. Kokaisal is working on a grant with Dr. Kristi Henderson, director of Telehealth Services, to establish preceptor protocols, which would allow instructors in the consortium to perform check-off evaluations for students in areas where there are few preceptors.

Recently, Kokaisal, former SON faculty member Rene Daniels and Mary Mixon with hospital administration worked together to establish the Mississippi chapter of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. The group has held several state conferences already.

“I came here right out of nursing school and went right to 7East,” said Mixon, who now is in hospital administration. “I went from a student one day to a graduate nurse the next, and then after 6 months I became the head nurse of the psychiatric unit.

“And I haven’t looked back,” she added. “I think it’s a wonderful field. I encourage every nurse I can to go into that field.”