Shortage of Trained Psych NPs a Growing Threat

Becky James

If you work in healthcare administration, clinical shortages are probably one of the biggest issues keeping you up at night.  Particularly, if you are recruiting for mental health providers, then you know all too well about the unprecedented demand for Psychiatrists.  If you are an organization that was able to hire a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with full practice authority to fill the gap, then you breathed a small sigh of relief. 

Not everyone was so fortunate.  

By 2019, however, 22 states offered full practice authority for Nurse Practitioners easing the burden for some healthcare entities.  With independent care gaining steam, more facilities will be able to survive the critical demand for mental health coverage.   

While this is great news, it is evident that the demand for a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) will soon outweigh the supply.  The number of jobs for a Psych NP will increase 31% from 2014 to 2024.  According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are approximately 270,000 licensed NPs in the U.S. but only 2.4% specialize in Psychiatric or mental health practice.  The math is scary.  A new study by the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) found that the US would soon experience a shortage of these qualified professionals to provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders. As we are seeing, this is an all-too-real depiction of the industry’s current status.

What can healthcare facilities do to get ahead of this shortage too?

Hire a New Psych NP Grad:  Reconsider the Benefits

Understandably, many employers shy away from hiring new grads. Perhaps this is due to the daunting task of training that new grad or perhaps they had a bad experience with one. Regardless of the reason, employers should reconsider their position. One of the ways to overcome this fear is to assign a mentor to a recently hired grad.  Not only can they help a new grad acclimate to the position quickly, mentors provide information and knowledge. They can also track the new hire’s accomplishments and immediately see where improvement is necessary.   

New Grads are also familiar with EMR systems, imaging programs and other technology advancements that have been adopted by healthcare entities. Hence, they may contribute to the facility in unforeseen ways such as helping your existing staff stay current. New Grads are also eager to perform and may be willing to take on tasks others may not. Furthermore, hiring a new grad usually means you don’t need to untrain bad habits.

Addressing the Shortage with Physician Assistants Specializing in Psychiatry

Although the need for more mental health professionals—especially those who can prescribe—is well documented, PA practice in psychiatry has been underrepresented, with PAs choosing to work in the field at a rate just over one-fourth that of physicians. Physician assistants who choose to specialize in psychiatry may complete a residency/fellowship in psychiatry in approximately 1 year, and/or obtain the Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) in psychiatry from the NCCPA. Most PAs who work in psychiatry have done so through “on-the-job” training, where their knowledge and skills have expanded through working with their supervising physician(s) and gaining experience from their clinical practice and self-study.

Along with the PA’s basic education, the additional knowledge and skills acquired in residency prepare the PA to be a highly capable psychiatric clinician, with a combined 1,500 didactic and 4,000 clinical hours of training in general medicine plus psychiatry. The addition of the CAQ demonstrates the PAs commitment to additional learning in psychiatry, as the additional work experience requirements, postgraduate continuing medical education requirements in psychiatry, and the psychiatry board exam clearly show dedication to a higher level of knowledge and skill in the specialty.

Complement Your Team with PMH Registered Nurses

The APNA is calling on the US to increase mental health training and education for all aspiring nurse professionals to help counteract the looming shortage of health professionals. They also recommend an expansion of the care offered by psychiatric mental health (PMH) nurses. Since PMH registered nurses make up the second-largest group of behavioral healthcare providers in the US, the APNA argues expanding their reach to include mental health and substance abuse patients makes perfect sense.

According to studies, there has been a 58% increase in psychiatric RN job openings in the past few years.  Like utilizing nurse practitioners in the family practice, expanding the use of  PMHRNs will help healthcare organizations reach more patients and alleviate the terrible shortages we see currently and in our future. Most importantly, you will develop a stronger mental health team that can help each other, and foster learning and growth. 

Talk with the expert team at MedSource Consultants. We can help you staff the best Mental Health Clinicians to fit your needs.