News & Events

New DNP program aims to meet national need for mental health care

By Tobi Walsh Laukaitis, October 31, 2018

The Liberty University School of Nursing launched its Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Psychiatric Mental Health this fall in response to a national need for qualified mental health providers.

“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,” said Dr. Sharon Kopis, School of Nursing doctoral programs chair. “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.”

The new doctoral program is offered online and centers 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.

One unique aspect of the new online program is the use of telehealth technology.

“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.”

Students are also learning to use robotics to participate in clinicals on campus. They control a robot remotely, and it becomes their stand-in as they interact with patients and their instructors.

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 on how to care for those seeking help.

“It’s a complex issue,” she said. “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.”

Kopis said it’s also about learning to 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

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