Nursing consortium earns high marks from national board
By Matt Westerfield
Three years ago, the School of Nursing joined forces with four other universities around the state to expand access to advanced care for elderly patients as well as those with mental health illnesses, two underserved populations in Mississippi.
Last month, the collaboration earned its first accreditation and has a new crop of nurse practitioners set to graduate and provide a boost to the state's workforce.
The collaboration, known as the Mississippi Educational Consortium for Specialized Advanced Practice Nursing (MECSAPN), was accredited after a successful site visit by the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
"The CCNE team leader commented that Mississippi's consortium is unique in that five universities work together to achieve a common goal," said Dr. Cynthia Luther, assistant professor of nursing and director of the consortium.
Ashley Karel said she learned about the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Track through Dr. Carl Mangum, a former teacher.
"I knew that there was such things as psych/mental health nurse practitioners, and after my preceptorship in undergrad on the psych floor here at UMMC, I knew that was what I wanted to do," said Karel who will graduate this month.
Mangum, an assistant professor of nursing, taught Karel's behavioral health course while she was a B.S.N. student. Three years later, they're now classmates, both training to become nurse practitioners specialized in caring for patients with mental health illnesses.
With the current health-care crisis, there's a shortage of physicians throughout the country, and nurse practitioners are stepping up to fill those gaps, said Mangum, who earned his Ph.D. last year, shortly before enrolling in the post-master's track.
Luther said mental health patients and elderly patients are two vulnerable populations in the state who need advanced practice nurses. The goal of the partnership is to share resources between the five universities in Mississippi with graduate nursing programs in order to boost the number of nurses specialized in those areas.
Vanessa Norman examines Ann Wilcox in a patient simulation.
UMMC is the lead university for the consortium, which includes Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women and the University of Southern Mississippi. It was established in 2008 with a $1.2 million grant awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an achievement Luther credits to the vision of professor emeritus Dr. Virginia Cora and the leadership of Dr. Sharon Lobert.
"In Mississippi, there are 11 gerontological nurse practitioners who maintain a license for the state," Luther said. "For psych/mental health, when you combine the adult and family, it's 58 for the state.
"With the growth in the numbers of older adults and need for mental-health care throughout the state, Mississippi needs more specialty nurse practitioners."
Before the consortium, there were no advanced nursing programs in the state to prepare nurses for the challenges of caring for elderly patients, though UMMC and USM offered psychiatric mental health tracks.
"But nobody really had the numbers of students that it took to justify having the programs. So the idea was to pool the students and share resources among the schools," Luther said.
Recruiting students to pursue either specialty can be a tough sell because there's often a social stigma attached to both types of patients.
"In my opinion, it's intimidating for a young nursing student to enter either specialty," said Luther.
A student's first encounter with a patient can influence his or her perception, said Dr. Lisa Byrd, a part-time assistant professor of nursing.
"Then they get the stereotyping going on, the ageism where they assume that all older people over the age of 60 will develop Alzheimer's disease," she said. "With us on the verge of quadrupling our elderly population in the next 30 years, there are not enough people trained in the geriatric field to handle these folks."
Mangum, who worked at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield for seven years, said that out of roughly 80 B.S.N. graduates per year, typically only one will go to work in a mental-health area. His former student, Karel, was among that minority.
"People kind of brush them off as, 'Oh, well, they're just crazy.'" Karel said. "They're people, too, and they need help. They need help for their bipolar disorder or depression just like someone else might need help with their high blood pressure."
Karel, who graduates this month, already has been hired by the Warren-Yazoo Mental Health Center in Vicksburg, where she'll be the first full-time psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She is among four UMMC graduates; two others are set to graduate in geriatrics.
"It's unique with Ashley and I, having taught her a couple of years ago in psych and to see her progress and get through the program," Mangum said. "I'm very proud of her, and she's going to make a great nurse practitioner."