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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU addresses need for more mental health nurses

As nursing shortages continue, New Mexico State University's Department of Nursing is working with more than $1 million in grant funding to address the need for nurses specializing in the area of mental health.



Ten students are on target to obtain graduate degrees in nursing through New Mexico State University's MIND Project: Mental Health Improvement via Nursing Distance Education. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Intentional self harm is one of New Mexico's 10 leading causes of death, said Mary Hoke, nursing department head who co-directs the MIND Project: Mental Health Improvement via Nursing Distance Education with Leslie Robbins, assistant professor of nursing.

The "Behavioral Health Needs and Gaps in New Mexico Report" released in 2002 by the Human Services Research Institute in New Mexico paints a compelling picture of the extensive mental health needs in the state, she said.

New Mexico's correctional system has estimated 26 percent of inmates have substance abuse or mental health issues, the report says. Of the 11,000 homeless individuals in the state at any point in time, two-thirds have a mental health or substance abuse problem. The consensus among those interviewed for the study was that no population was being appropriately served in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

With the grant funding from the Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the MIND Project, which is entering its second semester, is using distance education tools to admit, retain and graduate more than 30 students with graduate degrees in nursing, either as a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist or as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Other program objectives are to expand cross-cultural education and conduct "Nursing as a Career" workshops for New Mexico junior and senior high school guidance counselors.

The project was designed to address New Mexico's status as a largely medically underserved area in the field of behavioral and mental health concerns, but the focus was to keep health professionals in their communities. The distance education program is an extension of NMSU's traditional psychiatric mental health nursing program, which is the only one offered in the area.

"We wanted to develop a user-friendly program that allowed these professionals to stay in their communities," Robbins said. "New Mexico has serious mental health and addiction issues to deal with, so we need to leave our nurses in their communities as they are furthering their educations."

The first 10 students were admitted in the fall and are scheduled to finish the program in May 2006. At the beginning of each semester, the class meets for a four-day seminar and then the rest of the work is done on the Web. Each student is provided a computer and camera to use in the course work. Students from across the state are participating.

"We thought combining face-to-face interaction with online courses would be a good fit for our students," Robbins said.

Alfredo Molina of El Paso agreed that it was good to be able to stay in his community while still attending school full time. Molina, who is a registered nurse and has worked in psychiatric health for 12 years, starting as a technician, said he sees a need for more follow-up care.

Molina is pursuing a degree as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and would like to practice at an outpatient facility.

"I have seen so many mental health patients end up back in the hospital because they did not have any follow-up care," Molina said. "The new NMSU program opened doors to me because I would not be able to come to campus several times a week, but through this program I will be able to finish my graduate degree."

For more information about the program, which will be admitting a new group of students in fall 2005, call Robbins at (505) 646-2320.