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ASU Family Psychiatric NP Program


Behavioral and mental health disorders in children and teens are jumping ahead of physical health problems as the leading causes of extremely chronic illness and even death, according to the American Psychological Association.

Fifteen million children are affected by disorders such as depression, stress and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as more serious conditions such as schizophrenia and ADHD-bipolar or ADHD-depression. But less than 25% of these children receive treatment because of a severe shortage of child psychiatrists and other mental health care providers, according to the APA.

To help create more child-family psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners, the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation is establishing the 16th family psychiatric nurse practitioner program in the nation, says Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, RN, CPNP/NPP, FAAN, FNAP, dean of the ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation and director of this project.

The program will be funded by a federal grant of nearly $1 million from the Healthcare Resources and Services Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration.

The three program options, which are all offered online, include:

• A 15-credit child and adolescent mental health intervention graduate and post-master’s degree certificate.

• A 44-credit post-master’s degree to Doctor of Nursing Practice CFP/MHNP program starting in the fall semester.

• An 84-credit post-bachelor’s degree to Doctor of Nursing Practice as a Child-Family Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, which also starts this fall.

The program was developed online to serve nurse practitioners across the country, says Michael Rice, PhD, ARNP, BC, FAAN, co-director of the project, as well as an associate professor of nursing and the psychiatric nurse practitioner program coordinator.

“The need is bigger than just us,” he says. The program already has students from as far away as San Diego to Buffalo, New York, he adds.

There are only 487 child family psychiatric nurse practitioners in the country, making them the smallest group of nationally certified psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurses in the country, according to data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. That compares with more than 7,000 adult psychiatric clinical nurse specialists, almost 1,000 child psychiatric CNSs and 1,500 adult psychiatric nurse practitioners.

In addition, there is a national shortage of 30,000 child psychologists, Rice says.

“There are only 134 child psychiatrists practicing in the whole state of Arizona,” he says. Five counties in Arizona have no access to child psychiatrists at all.

Because of the inadequate numbers of child mental health providers, pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners are left assessing and managing common behavioral and mental health disorders in children and teens — often without the screening and knowledge to implement an intervention, Rice says.

Early intervention is often critical with mental health disorders in children, he says.
“There is some good evidence to suggest that early intervention can minimize or even eliminate the severity of the problem as adults,” he says. One example of this is medications for children with bipolar disorders that can stimulate the amino acids in the brain and actually heal the brain by adulthood.

“Early intervention can avoid some of these tragedies found in schools today, identify the problem and begin treatment,” Rice says.

Studies also have indicated that evidenced-based treatments are associated with better outcomes, including a decrease in symptoms and disabilities and improvement in school performance, Rice says.

The 15-hour program for graduate certification is designed for a wide group of health care professionals, including PNPs, FNPs, pediatricians, social workers – “any licensed health professional,” Rice says. It focuses on enhanced mental health assessment and intervention skills for use in primary care practices.

Currently there are 10 students in the program, which has a capacity of 12 to 15 students. The program is limited as ASU works to secure clinical placement for the students where they live, he says.

The other two programs will prepare CFP/MHNP candidates for national certification as family psychiatric nurse practitioners, Rice says.

The post-master’s program is one of the advanced practice specialty tracks in the college’s new doctor of nursing practice program and has had 95 inquiries for the first six slots, Rice says. The post-bachelor’s program can enroll eight students.

The ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation also plans to conduct a national symposium on child and adolescent mental health in Scottsdale Oct. 8-10. The symposium, which is co-sponsored by the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, will focus on providing continuing education that enhances mental health screening and early intervention practices of health care providers who care for children, adolescents and families.

For more information, contact the Academy for Continuing Education at or ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation web site at


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Teresa McUsic is a freelance writer. To comment on this article e-mail

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