By Erica Techo
Research shows that individuals with substance use disorders frequently seek care in primary care settings. Through a four-year, $2.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing is advancing nurse practitioner education to expand the preparation of primary care NPs to screen, treat and refer patients facing these issues to provide patients better care and help combat this growing public health crisis.
The grant is specifically tailored to serving persons in rural and underserved communities because they are some of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic – they lack the health care and other resources to address addiction but have some of the highest rates of abuse.
“This project is funded through an Advance Nursing Education Workforce (ANEW) grant and will create a sustainable pipeline of practice-ready primary care nurse practitioners with advanced training in opioid use disorder prevention, identification and treatment,” said Associate Dean for Graduate Clinical Programs and ANEW project manager Ashley Hodges, PhD, CRNP, WHNP-BC, FAANP (MSN 1997, PhD 2008). “We will prepare 16 primary care nurse practitioners per year, drawing from the family nurse practitioner (FNP), psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP) specialties who have a desire or intent to work in rural or underserved communities, where access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment is limited.”
To date, most primary care nurse practitioners are trained to ask patients about illegal substance use and prescription drug misuse. Advanced training, however, is usually left to substance abuse and mental health professionals, Hodges said.
“With this grant we are moving that advanced training to primary care because that is where most patients with behavioral health or substance use issues are seen,” she said. “Through this project, students will learn about multiple screening tools, referral options and treatment, including medication assisted treatment to be able, once they are in the practice setting, to be able to provide better quality care to the patients they serve.”
Students will deepen their knowledge of substance use disorders through additional clinical hours, monthly webinars and legislative and leadership-centered workdays. They will complete the bulk of their clinical hours serving rural and underserved communities, including clinical training at one of three expanded and new clinical partner sites.
The grant provides funding to enhance two of the School’s academic-practice partnerships with Beacon Recovery and Alethia House, and supports a newly established relationship with East Central Mental Health Center. These clinical partners, whose clinics focus on substance abuse treatment, will give students the clinical experiences and training necessary to expand their skillset related to substance use and prescription drug misuse.
As a part of the grant, the School also is working with affiliate partner Tuskegee University School of Nursing to identify and recruit current Tuskegee Bachelor of Science in Nursing or graduates who want to become nurse practitioners in one of the grant’s three specialty areas to the UAB SON MSN program. The Schools also are collaborating to identify training gaps related to rural and underserved populations and necessary steps to better prepare students to provide care in rural Alabama.
“This grant gives us yet another opportunity to partner with the Tuskegee University School of Nursing to address the healthcare needs of individuals in underserved rural areas and improve the health outcomes of Alabamians” said Associate Dean for Clinical and Global Partnerships Maria Shirey, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, ANEF, FACHE, FNAP, FAAN.
Hodges added that because many rural Alabama communities do not have access to primary health care, much less treatment for substance use disorders, the nurse practitioners who are trained through the grant and will work in Alabama’s rural communities are filling more than one need.“This grant ensures that nurse practitioners who desire to return to rural and underserved communities have advanced, targeted training and the tools to recognize and treat mental health and substance use issues,” Hodges said. “These NPs can meet the needs of Alabama’s underserved communities and eliminate one of the most significant barriers we face in impacting the opioid epidemic, as well as so many other of the state’s pressing and growing health care issues — a lack of access to qualified primary care providers.”