2020 2020: New advanced graduate certificate in psychiatric mental health offered by College of Nursing & Health Sciences
New advanced graduate certificate in psychiatric mental health offered by College of Nursing & Health Sciences

Program will prepare nurses for board certification as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners

Female nursing students sitting at a table viewing papers
Graduate nursing students holding a master's or doctoral degree are eligible to apply for the CAGS certificate for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, greatly expanding their role opportunities and scope of practice.

Addressing a growing need for psychiatric care in the SouthCoast region, the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS) will offer a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. The program will be introduced in January 2021 and will be offered online.

The certificate program provides nurses with the required coursework and clinical experiences for certification as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The certification is attractive to nurse practitioners interested in further graduate study and allows PMHNPs throughout the U.S to prescribe psychotropic medication to treat mental health disorders, according to Associate CNHS Dean June Horowitz.

“This is a very exciting role in nursing,” said Horowitz. “There are lots of opportunities for practice, from working in a hospital to an outpatient setting or private practice. The opportunities are endless.”

In practicing psychotherapy, this certification will enable nurse practitioners to assess, diagnose, prescribe, and treat mental health issues. Although adult/geriatric, pediatric, women’s health, and family nurse practitioners are likely to recognize these disorders, they are unable to manage their patients over time because a psychiatric provider is needed with specialized expertise to manage complex and long-standing disorders.

PMHNP preparation and certification greatly expand a nurse's scope of practice and role opportunities in mental health/psychiatric care. Students will be prepared to diagnose and treat acute and chronic mental health conditions. Graduates will have knowledge and competence in providing psychotherapy and prescribing medications for patients across the lifespan.

Notably, psychologists and social workers cannot prescribe; however, they can make referrals to a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner who can treat patients. PMHNPs also will refer to a neurologist or psychiatrist when a consultation or more specialized treatment is indicated.

The certification also allows the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner to be reimbursed for their care, whether that entails medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two modalities.


Certification program will help meet need for psychiatric care in the region and throughout the U.S.

“We are in an area where there is such a need for psychiatric providers,” said Dr. Karen Pounds, clinical associate professor of nursing, speaking of the New Bedford, Fall River, and Cape Cod communities. “We have very few mental health nurse practitioners and other psychiatric providers in the area. UMass Dartmouth offers the only mental health nurse practitioner program on the SouthCoast.”

Poverty, lack of access, opioid and substance abuse, and underemployment all contribute to the need for more mental health services in the SouthCoast, Pounds said.

Services for youth are particularly limited. It is noteworthy that only 2,000 child psychiatrists are in practice throughout the United States. The need for mental health clinicians who are qualified to work with children and adolescents is especially acute.

“This will position us well as a community resource to help meet the mental health needs of the area and contribute to the workforce as well,” Horowitz said. “Due to the lack of psychiatric services, it’s difficult to find a child or even an adult mental health practitioner.”

The CAGS plan requires 18 credits in psychiatric mental health nursing coursework that includes a minimum of 500 hours of clinical experiences over three semesters and one summer course. Eligible applicants must have either a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and graduate level coursework in advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and physical assessment across the lifespan. Based on a review of applicants’ prior coursework and with advising, these courses also may be taken as pre-requisites to the CAGS course plan.

Upon completion of the program, graduates will be eligible to take the national certification exam to become PMHNPs.

Review the CAGS program plan.