The University of New Mexico College of Nursing will launch a post-master’s certificate program to become a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner, starting in Spring 2017.

The College of Nursing, in collaboration with the University of Colorado Denver, has designed a program for master’s-prepared nurse practitioners and nurse midwives to add the necessary knowledge and skills for assessment, diagnosis and management of mental illnesses to their scope of practice.

The Collaborative Advanced Psychiatric Education Exchange (CO-APEX) is funded through a $1.94 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to address disparities in the distribution of mental health practitioners throughout New Mexico.

The new program provides web-based courses in collaboration with the University of Colorado Denver, but UNM College of Nursing faculty will arrange and provide clinical oversight for students, who will receive their degree from UNM.

Several factors are driving the initiative for a mental health nurse practitioner program.

People who endure psychiatric mental illness are vastly underserved, especially in rural areas. New Mexico's suicide rate in New Mexico is 59 percent higher than the U.S. average. Rates of alcohol-related deaths and drug overdose deaths are also much higher.

Meanwhile, rural New Mexicans have some of the poorest access to behavioral health providers in the country as a result of limited public funding and infrastructure.

“The HRSA grant is based on the reality that there is no health without mental health care,” said Michael Rice, PhD, director of the CO-APEX project at the University of Colorado, Denver.  ““The behavioral health needs across the two states are highlighted by death statistics: Colorado is sixth for adolescent suicide and New Mexico has the fourth highest suicide rate overall. Due to the vast distances in both states, mental health services are often not readily available and the number of qualified mental healthcare providers is limited.”

The CO-APEX grant focuses on training culturally competent psychiatric nurse practitioners  to meet underserved mental health care needs.

The UNM College of Nursing, the state's  flagship nursing education program, offers bachelor of science in nursing, master of science in nursing, post-master’s certificate, doctor of nursing practiceand doctor of philosophy programs.

With more than 500 students and cutting-edge online nursing education, the UNM College of Nursing is working to increase the number of health care providers in New Mexico and beyond.