Michael Rice, PhD, APRN, BC, FAAN
2010 Award for Excellence in Education

Michael Rice, PhD, APRN, BC, FAAN, recipient of this year’s APNA Award for Excellence in Education, describes himself as a “clinician turned academic.” For him, education serves as a means to an end. By giving students from all areas access to superior training and education, he is by extension improving the care of those who suffer from mental illness. Viewing him as a wonderful mentor and model for his students, his colleagues nominated him for not only this award, but also the University of Nebraska’s Outstanding Teacher Award which he received earlier this year. He also serves as the Associate Director of the Nebraska Behavioral Health Education Center, a joint venture between the UNMC College of Medicine and the state of Nebraska which aims to increase the behavioral health workforce in Nebraska through the use of interdisciplinary education. Dr. Rice’s passion for the profession of psychiatric mental health nursing clearly inspires his resourcefulness and dedication as an educator.

Rice grew up in north central Nebraska and attended the UNMC College of Nursing to pursue his masters. He is now back in his home state and at his alma mater, this time teaching graduate students. “I grew up in rural America,” he says, which explains his identification of the use of responsive technology as a viable solution to the scarcity of nurses in rural areas. Since the early 1990’s, Dr. Rice has sought to use this technology to increase the accessibility of psychiatric mental health nursing education for rural-dwelling students and, since 2000, he has received sizeable grants to do so. “If we educate people in rural America, then they will stay there,” he says. Students who migrate to urban areas to study aren’t likely to return to the rural areas, and that is where the need is.

The use of interactive technology is his unique solution for bringing education to nurses in rural areas. It entails the use of Adobe Connect, which grants students access to faculty from virtually anywhere with an internet connection. Nursing students can attend class, earn their required clinical supervised hours and obtain a masters with the use of this technology. It’s an incredibly convenient and flexible system which packages psychiatric nursing education into “a form that people can get to and use.” But Rice does not see himself as a technology guru; “it’s really about taking current off-the-shelf technology and using it to meet people’s learning needs in rural America,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in relationships face to face and body mechanics.” It especially did not make sense to Rice to be teaching psychiatric mental health nursing and “just have people type.” With responsive technology, students and faculty can see and hear each other. And it is working—the technology has received positive reviews from faculty and staff and it has enabled UNMC to admit more students to the program.

If there is a common thread running through everything Dr. Rice says, it is his rejection of the idea that his achievements are his and his alone. He takes a much more generous view. When asked for his reaction to winning two awards this year, he laughs, “you know, it’s not about the rewards and it’s not about me; it’s about relieving the suffering of those people who we serve.” “I get inspired not by the patients’ needs but by how hard my colleagues work,” he adds. “This award is about all of us and how hard we work, and I find that inspiring.”