MSN Students Tend to Veteran Clients Through Telemental Health Services

Collage of veteran in wheelchair and mobile phone displaying a Telehealth graphicMaster of Science in Nursing (MSN) students have been able to expand their skill set and stay on track in light of the pandemic due to a mass adaptation of telehealth.

MSN students in the Psychiatric - Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Program typically complete their clinical requirements in traditional patient care settings. When COVID-19 happened, restrictions created by the pandemic proved potentially problematic. However, the pandemic didn’t hinder these students’ progress due to the quick response from sites such as the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN), a key partner of the PMHNP program, who promptly shifted their services to an online platform. CVN primarily provides mental health care to post-9/11 veterans and their families, regardless of the veterans’ role in the service, discharge status, or combat experience.

“Cohen made the transition almost overnight to telehealth, which is unprecedented,” said Sean P. Convoy, DNP, PMHNP-BC, assistant professor and PMHNP lead faculty. “They were able to meet both their patients’ and our needs. Quite frankly, without Cohen's support, we would have struggled to get our students the requisite number of precepted hours to graduate on schedule. All of our students are now on target despite the impacts of COVID.”

Normally, students would be paired with a precepted clinical site close to where they live. However, due to the remote nature of telemental health and temporary policy changes, students can reside in one state and support clients in another. Such was the case for student Daniel Moldwin, who resides in New York and saw patients in Texas.

“It has been an amazing experience working with CVN patients and providers over the past few months,” he said. “I have had the privilege of working with a wide variety of patients suffering with mental health issues. CVN has afforded me the opportunity to gain critical skills that will help to ensure I can provide optimal quality care to all types of patients.”

Moldwin said a couple of advantages of telemental health include more accessibility from providers and greater convenience for patients who can’t easily leave their homes.

“While many patients and practitioners prefer in-person visits, I absolutely understand and appreciate the value of remote health care,” he said. “Telehealth medicine has proven to be highly beneficial for many patients and practitioners and will ultimately be the way of the future.”

Student Jessica Marcello, who has telehealth experience through other clinical sites, will be spending her final semester doing remote rotations with Cohen.

“Working with the CVN provides a special opportunity to develop my therapeutic and clinical skill set by offering trauma-informed mental health care to best serve the unique needs of veterans and their families,” she said. “CVN rose to the challenge to meet both patient and student needs in an inclusive way by continuing to advance the profession by offering telehealth clinical rotations. Upon graduation, I feel confident knowing that my cohort and I will be well prepared to offer truly innovative mental health care.”

A long-term advantage of telemental health is being able to better assist those in need who live in an underserved area.

"We recognize that mental health providers across the country are not equitably distributed,” Convoy said. “There are high concentrations of psychiatric providers located in the northeast and in populated cities across the country. This provides necessary context into the regular challenges associated with chronically underserved rural areas all across the country.

Training our students to deliver high-quality telemental health prepares them to support some of the most vulnerable and underserved among us. Telemental health is a critical training set for our students, and Cohen is an incredible partner that has breathed life into its vision.”

The School of Nursing has partnered with Cohen since July 2019 to place select PMHNP students at Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics across the country; the partnership stems from Health Resources & Service Administration (HRSA) Advanced Nursing Education Workforce (ANEW) grant 6 T94HP30869-04-01. To date, the School has formed relationships with five of these clinics including ones in California, Washington and Texas.

As part of the grant, eligible PMHNP students can also apply for the ANEW Psychiatric - Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Scholarship for Serving Vulnerable Populations. Both Moldwin and Marcello are recipients of this scholarship.

Outside the Cohen partnership, the PMHNP program has also partnered with other sites across the country, including, more recently, the Raleigh-based Holly Hill Hospital.

“I am very excited about our burgeoning relationship with Holly Hill,” Convoy said. “Our students will be able to get critical inpatient and outpatient psychiatry experience as well as exposure to electric convulsive therapy.

We are really grateful for that opportunity and hope that the relationship continues to grow and develop.”

January 12, 2021

This story was originally published on the Duke University School of Nursing website.