Demand for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (Psych NPs) in Virginia

Driven by the fear and losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the focus on racial health disparities and inequities, the need for behavioral health services skyrocketed in Virginia in 2020 – and the nation – and has not subsided.

Virginia’s behavioral health workforce was stretched before the pandemic. Now, behavioral health professionals across the Commonwealth are overwhelmed – some no longer maintain new patient wait lists. As a result, Virginians are going months before an appointment is available—not just those who are uninsured or living in underserved areas. And, the demand for services is expected to continue to outpace the workforce in the coming decade.

Quantitative data reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on demand for behavioral health services and the behavioral health workforce shortage are not yet available. The data below, however – from before the pandemic – still paint a bleak picture.

The Milbank Quarterly reports that as many as 70% of primary care visits stem from psychosocial issues and that many primary care providers are not well-equipped or comfortable diagnosing and managing behavioral health conditions or prescribing psychotropic medicines. Nationally, 2/3 of primary care providers report difficulty securing needed psychiatric services for patients. While primary care providers (PCPs) prescribe the majority of anti-depressants in the US, patients receiving behavioral health medicines from their PCP get less than recommended doses of psychiatric medicines and fewer psychotherapy visits.

The following data points illustrate the behavioral health landscape in Virginia:

  • Most Virginia localities are federally-designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (MHPSA) (70%; 93 localities) and 41% of Virginians live in these communities.
  • A significant portion of Virginia’s licensed behavioral health workforce is age 55+ (Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Professional Counselors, psychiatrists and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners – Psych NPs).
  • Many localities have no psychiatrist or Psych NP (54 and 51 localities, respectively). Moreover, 35 localities are without a “prescriber” at all and an additional 25 have only 1 prescriber.

Note:  Most alarming, is the age of many “prescribers” – BH providers specially trained and licensed to prescribe and manage psychotropic medicines, which are critical to treat many mental health conditions. Nationwide, 61% of psychiatrists are age 55 or older (it is expected that Virginia’s psychiatrists are about the same age). In Virginia, 39% of Psych NPs are age 60 or older (60% are age 50+). The double-whammy of prescribers’ age and distribution in the Commonwealth is particularly disconcerting when thinking about the future.

Data Source:  Virginia Department of Health Professions (June 2021)

Psych NPs who have also practiced as NPs in other specialty areas are especially valuable in this time of integrating the delivery of behavioral health services with primary medical care. Training as both medical and behavioral health providers makes them ideal to bridging the cultural differences between medical and behavioral health professionals.

Click here for stories highlighting the work of several Virginia Psych NPs.

Employment
Psych NPs are in great demand. There are employment opportunities in all sectors (behavioral health practices, primary care practices, university counseling centers, hospitals, Veterans’ Affairs Medical Centers, substance abuse programs, public mental health agencies, residential treatment programs), all across the state. In October 2021, there were 101 Psych NP job postings in Virginia on Indeed.com (compared to 35 in August 2017).

The salary for Psych NP jobs in Virginia posted on Indeed.com averages $121,540.

Training
Six Virginia Schools of Nursing have post-Masters Psych NP certificate programs (Old Dominion University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a psychiatric concentration). It only takes existing NPs 12 – 24 months to earn a post-master’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate, while maintaining employment.

Scholarships

The Virginia Health Care Foundation offers full-scholarships for nurse practitioners wishing to earn a post-Master’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate. Interested in VHCF’s Psych NP scholarship? Click here.

Interested? Questions?  Email VHCF’s Program Manager at PsychNP@vhcf.org.

Last Updated on November 4, 2021