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Liberty News

New doctoral program in mental health care uses latest in telehealth technology

December 12, 2018 : By Tobi Walsh Laukaitis/Liberty University News Service

Liberty University’s School of Nursing has always stayed ahead of the technology curve as it trains students to become the hands and feet of Christ. Under the new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Psychiatric Mental Health, which launched this fall, students are being trained in telehealth (using robotic technology to connect with patients who may not otherwise have immediate access to a specialist).

The university acquired two telepresence robots, made by Double Robotics, which students can control remotely from any location through an app on a computer or mobile device. Students appear on the screen and can stage real-life scenarios in Liberty’s nursing facilities with standardized patients (people who portray patients for the purpose of medical training).

Doctoral Programs Chair Dr. Sharon Kopis said telehealth is being used nationally as a way for health providers to reach people in underserved areas and is already being implemented in hospitals where Liberty students are completing clinical hours.

“We know that not every patient, especially in rural and underserved areas, can come into a big medical center to get expert specialty care, but now through the use of robotics, we can deliver that anywhere,” Kopis said. “A patient can contact a nurse practitioner digitally and talk to them face-to-face in a city or larger hospital and get the care they need.”

The new doctoral program aims to meet a national need for qualified mental health providers. Offered online, the program focuses on psychiatric mental health across the continuum, including depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and addiction. Students conduct research, study the best in-patient and outpatient care practices, and learn about clinical psychopharmacology (using medicine to treat mental disorders) and holistic care. Students must complete 1,064 practicum hours.

There are 43.3 million people who struggle with mental illness in the U.S., but only about 43 percent are getting the care they need, according to new data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“With our mission of Training Champions for Christ and meeting the needs of our communities, we felt it was imperative to move forward with this program,” Kopis said. “There are not enough mental health providers, and it’s being looked at and addressed at the national level, but more needs to be done.”

Associate Professor Dr. Shade Odedina saw the growing need for mental health providers firsthand when she worked in private practice in Central Virginia. Because patients may see more than one specialist for several issues, she said, all providers must have some basic understanding of how to care for those seeking help.

“It’s a complex issue,” Odedina explained. “Not all patients are looking to be fixed. Some patients are just looking for clarity and answers. You have to meet the patient where they are. What works for one patient might not work for the next one.”

Odedina said having the DNP in Psychiatric Mental Health degree allows practitioners to provide integrative care.

“This degree allows them to see the whole person,” she said. “They may be a family or pediatric nurse practitioner, but they may see patients who also struggle with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses. The new program is useful because it fills a gap for psychiatric providers during a national shortage. The DNP can integrate this into other areas of their care.”

Kopis also said the program teaches leadership skills and Christian values that allow nurse practitioners to advocate for change and love patients as Christ would.

“Jesus ministered to all people across all walks of life,” she said. “I think that’s what we have to do. We cannot come into caring for patients with a bias. We must see them through the lens that Christ sees them, not ours.”

Liberty also offers the Doctor of Nursing Practice (Post-MSN), available online; the Doctor of Nursing Practice: Family Nurse Practitioner (Post-BSN),  available residentially and online; and a Postgraduate Certificate in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, also available fully online. Learn more at Liberty.edu/Nursing.

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