Concordia’s School of Nursing has launched a Psychiatric Mental health Nurse Practitioner certificate program. The fully online, post-graduate program is for licensed nurse practitioners and could be completed in as little as one year.

Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the fall 2023 edition of Hearts Together. The official magazine of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor publishes biannually.

Gaps in access to mental health services

Access to mental health services is a growing concern within the United States due to a combination of too few skilled professionals and a rise in need. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated this problem. Health care providers nationwide reported surges in the number of patients who sought mental and behavioral health services amid or post-pandemic. According to U.S. Health and Human Services data, in 2021, fewer than half of people with a mental illness were able to access timely care. Nationwide, average wait times for initial behavioral health care are up to six months.

The problem is exacerbated in rural areas. As of March 2023, 160 million Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages, resulting in lengthy wait lists. Some clinics have reported queues in the hundreds or even thousands.

These figures come as no surprise to CUW double alumnus Nathan Wallenfang, DNP, MBA, APNP/APRN, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC. Wallenfang is on the front lines of treating this epidemic in his corner of the world. He graduated from CUW’s Master of Science in Family Nurse Practitioner program in 2015 and completed Concordia’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program this year. In 2020, he earned a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse practitioner (PMHNP) certificate. He now serves patients throughout Wisconsin and upper Michigan. His employer is Advocate Aurora Health Care, the largest health care provider in the state. Even the largest is lagging, however. Wallenfang is currently the only prescriber for his designated region of northeast Wisconsin and upper Michigan. Following national trends, the wait time for his home clinic in Marinette farexceeds these averages.

Training nurse practitioners as part of the solution

Wallenfang understands the dire need, which is why he was so willing to advise his alma mater when he learned of CUW’s strategic plan to start a new PMHNP certificate program. Launched in fall 2023, the School of Nursing’s PMHNP certificate program is a fully online, post-graduate program for licensed nurse practitioners. The program consists of 18 credits and 500 practicum hours. An individual enrolled full-time could complete the program in one year. Graduates are then able to prescribe medications and more fully care for patients with mental and behavioral needs.

Concordia’s School of Nursing Dean Diane Ames, DNP, says many of Concordia’s family and adult gerontology nurse practitioner graduates expressed a desire to continue on to earn a PMHNP certificate.

“By creating this certificate, it allows our alumni to be part of the solution for this growing need,” says Ames.

Wallenfang feels confident that tapping the nurse practitioner workforce is a productive way to begin to address the prescriber shortage problem.

“Nurse practitioners are already practicing providers,” Wallenfang explains. “They don’t need to learn the nuances of writing notes, bedside practices, and all the skills that would go into a full-blown course. They’re seasoned health care professionals who really just need the finite material of psychiatry in order to be able to make a big impact in people’s lives.”

The Concordia difference

He’s also confident that Concordia is the best school to do it.

“I have a number of forays into higher education, and there’s a reason why I am a two-time graduate of Concordia’s nursing school,” Wallenfang says. “The way that Concordia has done it, in my opinion, is the right way. It’s the personal connections that have been made that make it feel as though you’re just so well supported. There’s a true community there.”

Want in?

CUW is proud to offer the longest-running Lutheran-based nursing curriculum in the nation, as well as the earliest established DNP in the state of Wisconsin. Click on the link below to learn more about our newest nursing offering.

The fall 2023 Hearts Together magazine hits mailboxes in November. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email