APNA News: The Psychiatric Nursing Voice  |  March 2016 Members' Corner Edition

A Psychiatric-Mental Health Content Toolkit for Undergraduate Faculty

David Sharp
An Interview with Dr. David Sharp, Co-chair of the Undergraduate Branch of the Educational Council
***September 2016 Update: The toolkit is now available here***

There is an urgent need for tools that faculty can use to better integrate psychiatric-mental health content into undergraduate nursing curricula: “Over the past few years, APNA members have expressed the need to highlight the key components for psychiatric mental health (PMH) content within the undergraduate nursing curriculum,” says David Sharp, PhD, RN, co-chair of the Undergraduate Branch of the APNA Education Council. “With the move towards integrated nursing curricula and integrated clinical experiences in nursing programs, faculty who teach PMH nursing realized that they needed to articulate and promote this content. This was not only to promote and advance the need for specialized psychiatric content, but also to help and guide those who need to teach such content, whether they be subject experts or not.” 

The integration of psychiatric-mental health throughout undergraduate nursing curricula, rather than teaching it as an individual subject taught by subject experts is a reflection of nursing’s embrace of the concept of integrated care. That is a good thing! However, this integration cannot be at the expense of watering down the psychiatric-mental health content that undergraduate nursing students receive.

Recognizing this, in August 2014 the APNA Board of Directors charged the Undergraduate Branch of the Education Council with identifying the essential PMH nursing content pertinent to undergraduate curriculum, in order to prepare nurses to provide competent care and to meet the mental health needs of clients, regardless of the setting. “The arrival of the charge from the APNA Board of Directors was timely in that it provided a platform to knit together the various strands of interest relating to teaching psychiatric-mental health content that had been areas of discussion from within the APNA membership,” says Sharp.


For this project, Undergraduate branch leaders sought volunteer members who were faculty in undergraduate programs with PMH teaching experience.  These volunteers formed workgroups of PMH nurse experts to collaborate and share teaching resources.  “There are many APNA members who have been involved to date in this project – nearly 40,” says Sharp. “The majority of the work on the project was conducted by 13 groups, each of which looked at one of the identified core content areas in PMH education.”  Special thanks goes to the leaders of the project, including David Sharp (Co-Chair), Diane Esposito (Co-Chair), Barbara Buxton, Shirlee Davidson, Ann Harms, Todd Hastings, Beth King, Brenda Kucrica, Marla McCall, Lesley Miles, Melissa Neatherly,  Karen Pounds, Traci Simms, Carol Wahlstrom, and Grace Wlasowicz.


The group started with a survey of colleges across the US to determine who was teaching psychiatric-mental health nursing and what they were teaching. The Undergraduate Branch then conducted a crosswalk between the recently updated Scope and Standards of Practice of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing (2014) and the APNA/ISPN Essentials of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing in the BSN Curriculum (2008).  “The result of this exercise was that the 2014 Scope and Standards content was aligned with the Core Nursing Content for teaching within the PMH Essentials document,” says Sharp. The group identified the following core content areas of education:

  • Growth and development
  • Neurobiological basis of care
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Clinical decision making
  • Patient care roles
  • Health care settings
  • Cultural, ethnic, spiritual concepts
  • Health promotion and illness prevention
  • Chronic illness
  • Ethical and legal principles
  • Vulnerable populations
  • Nursing research


“We realized that the thirteen core nursing content areas to be taught within the undergraduate curriculum now needed to be distilled and developed into a toolkit for teachers,” says Sharp. The branch was also mindful of APNA membership requests for a skills checklist, as well as access to PMH case simulation and case study scenarios.  “The charge from the APNA Board was to infuse pertinent PMH content into the undergraduate curriculum in order to provide nurses with the skills necessary to respond to the mental health needs of clients, regardless of setting,” he explains.  “The APNA members working on this project realized that they should produce resources and materials that would assist anyone who had to teach PMH content.”

The branch issued a call for volunteers to participate in developing materials for the 13 Core Nursing Content areas at the 2014 APNA Annual Conference. Volunteers for each content area conducted regular monthly or bimonthly meetings over the next year and produced the key material in time for the 2015 Annual Conference. “The Undergraduate Branch was eager to share this material,” says Sharp, “and presented the initial work at a pre-conference workshop.”  Following the workshop, four teams began to gather examples of teaching materials for specific core competencies and ensure consistency of content across the thirteen core areas.  This work in expected to be finished in April. 


When completed, the toolkit will be an invaluable resource for undergraduate faculty who teach PMH content, “whether they be subject experts or not, and whether PMH content is taught as a specific course within a nursing program or not,” explains Sharp. “For those already involved in teaching this content the toolkit should act as a source of inspiration to improve their teaching – to help think of new ideas or find new resources. To the PMH faculty member new to teaching, or a faculty member new to PMH content, the toolkit is envisioned as a place to start looking for ideas on teaching PMH content and specific PMH issues.”

What makes this toolkit particularly exciting is that it covers the content breadth of a psychiatric-mental health course at the undergraduate level. “Not only are didactic aspects addressed, but also clinical content areas that need to be taught and measured,” says Sharp. “The members who were involved in the project attempted to make the content as student centered as possible, moving from purely didactic content to more interactive forms of teaching.”   This means that in addition to providing lecture materials and content modules, the toolkit promotes innovative approaches such as case studies in formats such as movie clips, songs, popular literature etc.  The content was developed with the intention to inspire both teachers new to teaching PMH content as well as those who have been teaching it successfully for some time.

The toolkit is anticipated to be completed this April and then sent out for peer review – “We envision that the toolkit will be made available to the APNA membership prior to the APNA Annual Conference in 2016,” says Sharp.

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