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, initially leading curriculum design and administrative oversight. Now, it passes the baton to educators at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, who now 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,” says 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. 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,” explains Stephen Cavanagh, the dean of Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. “PMNPSs 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.