Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) is introducing a program in October 2021 that will provide vital training to nurse practitioners and physician assistants as they transition from graduates to expert primary care clinicians, with an emphasis on providing substance abuse prevention and treatment in underserved areas.
WesternU’s College of Graduate Nursing and College of Health Sciences received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to create the WesternU Integrated Substance Abuse Training Program (WISTP). WISTP is designed as a one-year, limited employment, transition-to-practice training program for nationally-certified nurse practitioners and PAs. Eligible applicants are those less than 18 months out of the basic education program. The training program begins every October 1. Applications are now open.
The aim of WISTP is to plan, develop, and operationalize a 12-month full-time post-graduate program designed to foster clinical training and augment expertise among practicing NPs and PAs to expand the number of practitioners trained to provide mental health, substance use disorders/opioid use disorders (SUD/OUD) prevention, treatment, and recovery services in community-based underserved primary care settings.
“California lacks a sufficient number of primary care providers who can identify and treat patients that may have a substance abuse disorder,” said College of Graduate Nursing Dean Mary Lopez, PhD, RN. “In today’s environment, there is the need to have a primary care provider with expert knowledge of the substance abuse continuum. Californians will benefit from programs like this.”
“What I like about this program,” said College of Health Sciences Dean Dee Schilling, PT, PhD, “is that the program recognizes that PAs also have a recognized role in addressing the total health needs of the clients. The program augments what the PA trainee learned in basic education and allows them to be full members of the health care team.”
Lopez added, “Applying for this grant was not a difficult decision. HRSA fully recognizes the contributions of both nurse practitioners and PAs as qualified providers. Having the grant allows the University to continue leading in educating tomorrow’s providers.”
The program will establish CGN’s first nurse practitioner postgraduate training program, said CGN Associate Dean for Administration and Research Rod Hicks, PhD, RN, FAANP, FAAN, who serves as the WISTP project director.
“The purpose of this transition to practice program is to reduce the likelihood of role strain during that first year,” Hicks said. “Across all disciplines, new graduates are considered novices. We are transitioning them from novices to expert providers. It takes a good year to get their comfort level.
“At the same time, we are integrating important concepts of substance abuse and mental health into their working knowledge,” Hicks added. “If you came to me in clinic, I am comfortable in asking you if you are using any substances. We want to make sure they’re just as comfortable in asking difficult questions.”
WISTP uses a consortium model with four clinical partners: WesternU Health in Pomona, Clare|Matrix in Santa Monica and other locations, Neighborhood Healthcare in Temecula and Riverside, and Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage.
“This will teach trainees how to look for drug addiction, how to look for medical addiction, and what you can do for them, and how can we treat them,” said CHS Department of PA Education Chair Roy Guizado, MS, PA-C. “I think a big bonus of the program is we connect with partners who are doing this on a regular basis, allowing the trainees to become like the apprentice, learning how to screen and treat. And then they can start doing this on their own.”
Talking with patients about substance use or addictions is often difficult and uncomfortable, but necessary.
“When you go to a program like this, you learn to make it part of your routine,” Guizado said. “As a consequence, hopefully you will identify more patients who need your help to get the correct treatment as needed.”
The program will take five postgraduate trainees per year for five years. There will also be a telehealth component so trainees become skilled in contemporary telehealth policies and practices, Hicks said.
More people go to primary care than to mental health care providers, so this represents an important opportunity to address mental health care needs in the community.
“Primary care represents an opportunity to screen for substance abuse, so we want to make sure our trainees and graduates are comfortable asking those sensitive questions,” Hicks said. “It builds upon WesternU’s longstanding history of providing primary care providers.”