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UW Degree Program Expands Primary and Mental Health Care in Wyoming

August 21, 2014
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Loretta Ford, who in 1966 founded the nation’s first nurse practitioner program, was a key speaker during a ceremony commemorating the University of Wyoming’s first Doctor of Nursing Practice class. Among students attending the ceremony were, clockwise from lower left, Shawn Snyder, Casper; Chelsea Carter, Laramie; Anne Marie Mann, Buffalo; Temberly Long, Bar Nunn; Laci Little, Billings, Mont.; Kurtis Crawford, Sheriedan Grannan and Kristen Trefren, all from Cheyenne; Lisa Aldrich, Gillette; and Ford. (UW Photo)

Graduates of a new University of Wyoming doctoral degree program in nursing will offer a unique set of skills to profoundly change health care delivery in Wyoming, according to the dean of UW’s nursing school.

UW’s trustees in 2010 approved the new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program as part of a national shift to offer extended training for nurse practitioners and in response to Wyoming’s health care needs, says Mary Burman, dean of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing.

“Most of the counties in Wyoming are underserved in terms of mental health care, and part of our DNP program focuses on nurse practitioners who work in psychiatric mental health,” Burman says. “The other piece of it is in primary care, and much of the state is experiencing shortages in primary care as well. The DNP graduates will play a key role in helping to meet those health care needs in the state of Wyoming.”

UW’s DNP program offers two options: 1) family nurse practitioner (FNP), which prepares nurse practitioners (NPs) to practice as primary care providers; and 2) family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (FPMHNP), which prepares NPs to practice as mental health providers. Both FNPs and FPMHNPs are prepared to diagnose and manage illness, including medication prescribing.

The first DNP students enrolled in the fall semester of 2012, so the program’s first graduates will enter the workforce in 2015.

Wyoming’s health care community recognized the need to bolster both primary care and psychiatric care in Wyoming, and fully supported the move to the new DNP program, says Associate Professor Ann Marie Hart, the DNP program director. She says the program offers training in the basic skills required to practice nursing, as UW previously offered at the master’s degree level, but adds a lot more. She says students entering the program were attracted by the strong emphasis on patient behavior changes.

“Many of the illnesses that Americans face can be prevented or, even if they can’t be prevented with health behavior change, they can be helped greatly by such changes,” she says. Graduates of the DNP program will be well prepared to offer such behavioral changes to aid patients with diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease and other common illnesses. The students acquire the skills to enhance both the treatment and prevention of such diseases.

“We tell the patients, ‘If you would do these things, such as walk more or exercise more, or eat more fruits and vegetables, you will feel so much better,’” Hart says. “For example, if a patient is at risk for diabetes, the DNP practitioner can work with them to help them to prevent diabetes from occurring; but if they do get the disease, we can work with them to decrease the need for some of their medication.”

She cites hypertension treatment as another example, noting that “there are a number of studies showing that weight loss and exercise can be as effective as medications in treating hypertension.”

The DNP program is attractive to people who want to work in rural areas, Burman says. Hart adds that many nursing students do their required rotations in rural areas.

“We find they want to stay and work in communities such as Saratoga, Guernsey, Lusk, Pinedale, the Wind River Reservation and other areas where they contribute to meeting community health care needs,” she says.

Burman says a number of the new DNP program students are younger than practitioners who obtained degrees under the master’s degree programs.

“Most are in their 20s and early 30s -- quite a change from previously, when experienced nurses in their 40s returned to college to get their master’s degrees,” she says. “We are targeting a younger group; we want them to be practicing nursing for 40 years.”

To provide students with the skills they need to instill behavioral training in DNP students, UW has added psychological training led by Assistant Professor Jenifer Thomas, who teaches courses on using health behavior changes to prevent or treat diseases.

The DNP adds a critical component to the mix of Wyoming health care including primary care physicians, pediatricians, internal medicine doctors, OB/GYN specialists and others, Burman says.

“Now, we are providing a new set of skills that emphasize behavior and lifestyle changes that add some really exciting things to expand primary care and mental health care in Wyoming,” she says.

The DNP is among other School of Nursing programs that play a role in meeting Wyoming’s health care needs. The school offers a program with the community colleges to teach the associate degree with a transition to the bachelor’s degree (RENEW); an accelerated BSN through the Outreach School (BRAND); and an option for RN/BSN completion online. 

Other College of Health Sciences units also provide significant value to the state through education and outreach, including the School of Pharmacy, and Divisions of Communication Disorders, Social Work, Kinesiology and Health, Wyoming Institute for Disabilities, and Medical Education and Public Health/Family Medicine Residency Programs.

Hear School of Nursing Dean Mary Burman describe the DNP’s impact on health care in Wyoming.Hear School of Nursing Dean Mary Burman describe the DNP’s impact on health care in Wyoming.

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