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Mental health education program transitions to UC Davis Health

School of Nursing continues commitment to students, faculty and state


More than half of Californians living with mental illness do not receive the psychiatric care they need. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the crisis. With an expected 41% fewer psychiatrists than needed in California over the next decade, the urgency to address the issue is even greater.

To answer the call, four University of California Schools of Nursing launched a multicampus, hybrid program to prepare nurse practitioners across California as psychiatric mental health specialists. The UC Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Certificate Program unites UCSF, UCLA, the UC Irvine Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. Together, they are developing a workforce of diverse licensed behavioral health professionals.

The one-year program, which welcomed its first class in 2021, grew out of a program developed by UCSF. At launch, UCSF was the only accredited PMHNP program in the UC system, so it initially led curriculum design and administrative oversight. Now, they pass the baton to educators at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, who take over to manage the program’s fourth class of students and beyond.

“Nurses are leading innovative changes to transform health for Californians. I am proud of the PMHNP program our faculty developed and have administered,” said Catherine Gilliss, dean of the UCSF School of Nursing. “I am confident that our Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing partners will continue this dedication to mental health professionals who are ready to tackle California’s complex health challenges.”

Gilliss, along with the deans at the other partner schools, agreed that continuing to share a multicampus program that serves the entire state is vital to increasing access to mental health services. The day-to-day operations for the current class of 2023 PMHNP students and the partner preceptors across the state does not change. Beginning in 2024, UC Davis will serve as the home institution for the program.

“This partnership across our sister UC Schools of Nursing serves as a testament to the power of collaboration and how, together, we can expand the impact we have for those in desperate need of mental health services,” explained Stephen Cavanagh, dean of the UC Davis nursing school. “PMHNPs bring a unique skillset and perspective to the mental health workforce. Our team is eager to identify ways we can expand the curriculum, teaching, placement opportunities and marketing outreach to move us to the next level.”

To date, 80 new PMHNPs have graduated from the program. They, along with future classes, are expected to serve as many as 378,000 patients over the next five years. The multicampus certificate program is a start. Mental health advocates also recommend increasing the number of behavioral health paraprofessionals in California. Paraprofessional roles that do not require a bachelor’s degree or licensure include peer providers, community mental health workers, and social and human services assistants.

Thirteen million Californians live in communities that the federal government has designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. An attribute of our program is that we train nurse practitioners in their local areas. That way they can work with their communities during the program and, hopefully, stay there to serve the populations after graduation,” said Lisa Badovinac, the assistant dean for education at UC Davis.

The PMHNP certificate program is geared toward advanced practice registered nurses and combines online education with three in-person sessions in Sacramento and regional clinical training across California. Beginning with the cohort enrolling in June 2024, students will apply through the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing pending all UC and California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). Applications for June 2024 entry are expected to open in late 2023 once approved.