UNC Greensboro’s Department of Psychology has been awarded a five-year, $2.15 million Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
The grant aims to recruit, retain, and support the training of clinical psychologists from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter primary care settings and medically underserved communities.
The ultimate goal is to diversify the clinical workforce – which is predominantly White and female – and to address disparities in mental health care access.
“This grant builds on our already strong foundation of working to reduce barriers to care for individuals in need,” said Dr. Susan Keane, professor and director of clinical training. “The grant will help train students in providing culturally competent care for underserved populations, while continuing to include behavioral health integration within primary care as a core competency. What I love about this grant is that it addresses both of these issues of access, while also reducing barriers to higher education for students.”
Keane serves as the lead principal investigator on the grant. Dr. Rosemary Nelson-Gray, Dr. Jason Herndon, Dr. Julia Mendez Smith, and Dr. Gabriela Livas Stein will serve as co-principal investigators.
All funds from the grant will be used to provide scholarships to 17-19 clinical psychology doctoral students each year. As Herndon explains, the grant “frees up students, who may otherwise struggle financially, to really focus on their training.”
In addition to financial support for students, there is programmatic support. The innovative NextGenClin program will provide additional clinical training and mentorship to meet grant goals as well as pair students with alumni mentors who work with underserved populations and in Integrated Primary Care settings.
“We know that mentorship is especially important for students of color and for those students who have not had the educational opportunities that are often afforded to others. NextGenClin fills this void,” Keane explained.
By recruiting and retaining more first-generation students, students from low-income backgrounds, and underrepresented minority students, UNCG aims to diversify the clinical workforce to better serve communities.
“It’s important that people from a variety of communities are able to see themselves in this profession. Diversifying the workforce now will help to continue to diversify the workforce long term,” Herndon said. “Additionally, while people can absolutely serve communities that are different from them, it’s important for people to have the option to see a mental health care professional who identifies with their community.” For example, a Black woman from a disadvantaged background may prefer to work with a Black therapist who has also experienced poverty or educational disadvantage.
The grant will expose all students to coursework and clinical experiences in underserved communities and primary care settings. UNCG will team up with a variety of community partners – including Brenner Children’s Hospital, PACE of the Triad, Moss Street Partnership School, and Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine – to offer experiential learning opportunities to students.
Why is placing psychologists in primary care settings so important? Again, it’s an issue of access.
Herndon explains that typically patients go to their trusted primary care doctor, who then refers them to other specialists, including mental health care specialists. However, this traditional referral process almost never results in the completion of a referral. Primary care integration – or having a mental health care professional embedded in a primary care practice – breaks down barriers and helps to destigmatize mental health care.
Over the course of the next five years, the research team will track students’ completion of program requirements and post-graduation outcomes – where they end up for their first job and how they contribute to diversifying the workforce. This tracking and evaluation will help measure the effectiveness of the program and inform future programs with similar goals.
Keane has spent 37 years at UNCG and has been deeply involved in similar work related to creating access for underserved populations and training students in the provision of culturally competent care. She led the HRSA-funded Graduate Psychology Education Program training grant for 15 years; the 2016-2020 grant brought opportunities for didactic and experiential training in Integrated Primary Care to the curriculum.
For her, the SDS grant is especially meaningful.
“It’s really quite remarkable to have this large pot of money to encourage disadvantaged and minority students to come to UNCG and to benefit from the training we have here,” she said. “I’m just really proud to be part of this team.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications