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RMU Educates Nurse Practitioners To Treat Children’s Mental Health Disorders

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pittsburgh – More and more children and adolescents require treatment for mental health disorders, but a shrinking number of health care providers are available to help them, according to national health care experts.

That’s why Robert Morris University has become one of the first nursing schools in Pennsylvania to offer a doctoral program to educate nurse practitioners to provide mental health care for patients of all ages, including children. RMU previously offered a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program to prepare psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners to only treat adult patients with mental health disorders.

Nationwide, only 72 nursing schools offer a specialty in child/adolescent or family mental health, according to research published in the journal Policy, Politics, & Nursing Practice. One RMU student will graduate this May with the university’s new DN.P degree and is eligible for national certification as a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can diagnose mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, prescribe medications, and conduct individual and family psychotherapy. Additionally, they can practice in primary care where the majority of psychiatric treatment for the pediatric population is provided.

According to the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, approximately 20 percent of patients under 18 years of age suffer from some sort of mental, behavior, or emotional disorder – such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and substance abuse – but as many as three-quarters of them go without treatment. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24, with most attempts occurring during adolescence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

By 2020, the nation will need 12,500 psychiatrists with specialized training in pediatrics, but only 8,300 will be available, according to research by the U.S. Bureau of Health Professions. Family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can help fill that gap.

“The increased recognition of the mental health needs of youth, the workforce shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists, and barriers to addressing mental health needs in the primary care setting support the need to increase providers who can manage the mental health needs of children and adolescents,” said Kirstyn Kameg, DNP, associate professor of nursing and coordinator of the family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program at RMU.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.