New Program Fills Health Care Gap

Touro launches an innovative Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program to address the critical shortage of mental health care providers.

March 11, 2024
A young nurse in blue scrubs talks to an older woman sitting on the edge of a bed

Confronting the mental health shortages faced by local communities and beyond, Touro University California’s renowned School of Nursing is launching a new Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program, this Fall 2024.

The PMHNP is a dynamic role to fill the gap of behavioral health shortages. PMHNPs are clinically certified to treat patients of all ages, provide therapy, manage acute and chronic conditions, prescribe medical and therapeutic treatments, and refer to other specialists as appropriate. PMHNPs are often serving in primary care settings increasing access to frontline care and when employed, can be accessed without referrals, and waits.

Prepared to provide therapy, treat, manage, and refer, PMHNPs can serve in a multitude of settings, including hospitals, ER’s, schools, private clinics, community health centers, inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and public health organizations.

Led by Dr. Prabjot Sandhu, Assistant Dean and Director School of Nursing, the program trains advanced practice nurses to become certified as behavioral and mental health professionals in 18-22 months.

“As we listened to the needs of our community, and follow the data in care access gaps, this program was envisioned to build bridges between our community health partners and our School of Nursing,” says Dr. Sandhu. “Providing this educational program plays a significant role in fostering healing within our communities for all involved.”

The launch of Touro's PMHNP program will be a critical step towards addressing the severe deficit in mental health providers, beginning in Solano County, but spanning across California. According to MHI (Mental Health America, 2022) data over half of the population (56%) lacks access to mental health services, and 27 million Americans with mental illness are untreated making the need for these kinds of programs even more urgent.

“There's a shortage of mental health advanced care providers and specialists, not only in our community but across the nation,” says Sandhu. California is in one of the top 4 states ranked highest for an untreated percentage of mental illness (61.8%) in the population (Mental Health America, 2022).

The five-semester PMHNP program is designed to accommodate nurses with master’s degrees. Sandhu emphasizes the flexibility of the program, offering a prerequisite semester for those who need to become more up to date with the essential foundations for this role.

“The program is designed to provide 750 clinical hours of diverse clinical rotations in the community and working with patients who range from a lower level of acuity to acutely ill patients in an inpatient, urgent care, or an emergency room setting,” says Dr. Sandhu. “We will also have about 100 hours of robust simulation and virtual reality training built into the program to develop those clinical practice experiences that aren't realistically possible to get in clinical training. Our nurses will leave fully prepared.”

Dr. Sandhu is excited about the program's potential to serve communities and fill the gap in mental health care access. By training a new generation of PMHNPs, the hope is to contribute to healing communities and ensuring that individuals of all ages receive the mental health care they need and deserve.