The Course: Psychopharmacology across the lifespan
What is it: Psychopharmacology refers to the study of using medications to treat mental disorders. Students take on advanced concepts in neuroscience including how drugs interact with the body and the range of reactions people have to them.
Why is it being taught: There is a need for more mental health service providers at both the state and national level. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, numerous Nevada counties have a shortage of mental health specialists and a high priority for clinical assignments.
This particular course is required in the UNLV School of Nursing psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program. These medications are a cornerstone of modern mental health treatment and knowledge of them is fundamental to this role. These types of drugs are often most effective if prescribed alongside, rather than instead of, treatments such as counseling and psychotherapy.
These kinds of nurses have a vital role to play in meeting Nevada's needs for mental health specialists. As providers with the power to write prescriptions, it's imperative that UNLV students come out of the program with the most current understanding of medications available to patients.
Who takes it: This course is taken by students in the psychiatric nurse practitioner program for master's students and in the two related advanced graduate certificate programs. Master's students will be registered nurses who hold at least an undergraduate degree in nursing and have practiced for a minimum of 2,000 hours. Students in the certificate programs will be nurses who possess a graduate degree in nursing and have practiced for a minimum of 2,000 hours as either a registered nurse or nurse practitioner.
Who teaches It: Rhone D’Errico, assistant professor in the school of nursing and the program lead for the psychiatric nurse practitioner programs.
How the class works: The course is divided into two classes: a three-credit lecture course and an associated five-credit clinical course. Students will learn about all aspects of psychopharmacology, including how it can be used to treat patients throughout their life and how to account for cultural and social factors. Students learn which medications can have similar effects, and how they interact with the body.
What students will be surprised to learn: Although this is a complex subject, psychopharmacology is approachable and understandable. Students will also learn how drugs work in concert with therapy and other forms of support.
What excites instructors the most to teach: It touches on so many aspects of advanced nursing practice, from the hard sciences of psychology, biochemistry, and biology to the social sciences of human wellness and flourishing. The psychiatric nurse practitioner can make very real, significant improvements in the lives of those who struggle with mental health and behavioral disorders.
What even laypeople should know from this course: Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are in many states, including Nevada, able to assess and treat patients independent of other professions, including physicians. These nurses become part of a holistic approach to responsible, high-quality patient care.
How relevant is this course to current events: The past 15 months have been stressful and uncertain for everyone worldwide. It underscores just how it's more important than ever that we're producing compassionate, educated mental health professionals. There is a perception that taking psychiatric medications is a sign that a person is flawed in some way. We can focus on changing this perception to instead view these drugs the same way people think about medicine for diabetes or hypertension, in that they treat biological symptoms that are causing distress in the body.