News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Cheryl Woods Giscombé on Promoting Mental Health Equity

Cheryl Woods Giscombé, PhD, MSN, RN, PMHNP, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, discusses the Interprofessional Leadership Institute for Mental Health Equity aimed at engaging pre-professional students in curricula and service-learning activities.

What are you working on as a Macy Faculty Scholar and why is it needed?
My project centers on developing an interprofessional curriculum for health professions students and current providers to better address the root causes of mental health disparities. Despite decades of research, the treatment of mental illness and its comorbidities still remains a significant public health problem nationwide. People of color are particularly vulnerable to mental health disparities and face unique challenges pertaining to mental health care – I want to change that.

I’ve initiated a mental health services program, the “Interprofessional Leadership Institute for Mental Health Equity,” at a community health center in Durham, NC. The goals of the Institute are to provide service learning experiences (including engagement in clinical practice, research, and leadership development projects) that prepare health professions students to provide culturally sensitive care, and to increase the pipeline of diverse mental health professionals. Students will work individually as well as in teams, guided by mentors to help them creatively strategize on how to address mental health needs, while bearing in mind the cultural factors influencing psychotherapy, medication and treatment plan adherence.

The Institute currently engages graduate students from UNC Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, and Virginia Tech University from a wide range of disciplines, including psychiatric nursing, nursing leadership, medicine, and marriage and family therapy. In addition, the program has involved psychology, criminal justice, public health, and pre-pharmacy students from North Carolina Central University, a historically black institution in Durham. Future participants will include graduate students in pharmacy, social work, and psychology, as well as high school students who are interested in pursuing health professions careers.

Can you explain more about how you are formalizing your curriculum and implementing it?
Throughout the project, I will work with a professional program evaluator and nationally-recognized scholars in nursing and health professional education to develop evidence-based strategies for assessing the project’s outcomes and how they compare to the intended objectives.

The Institute will be implemented as an interprofessional (IP) academic-community (A-C) partnered intern program. Students who participate in the Institute will engage in a formal curriculum that includes didactic, interactive, and direct care components. They will engage in learning activities that enhance their understanding of issues specific to particular groups experiencing health disparities, including racial and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBT and queer populations. They will be trained to provide culturally sensitive, team-oriented, holistic care that is based on the social determinants of health.

What are your ultimate goals for your project?
My ultimate goal for this project is to educate the next generation of health professionals on the needs of people of color, particularly in the realm of mental health care. I want my project to provide hands-on clinical, research, and leadership development experiences in a community-based setting that give students a better sense of what mental health care can and should be like, and help them see the very real benefits of working with patients as partners in their care.

Do you have anything else you would like to share?
This will be the first program of its kind in our geographic region that focuses specifically on resolving and preventing inequities in mental health conditions and care, and builds upon an existing partnership with a community health agency. This project will address the significant need for access to quality mental health care in NC and the USA more generally.

The long-term objective is to develop a program that is effective, efficient, and sustainable beyond initial funding. Ultimate goals are dissemination and replication. Creation of an internship program that can be launched to establish or enhance community-academic partnerships at multiple sites across the nation could serve as a model for special community needs beyond mental health disparities.

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