Grant helps expand pipeline for students pursuing behavioral health care field

Expanding the pipeline for behavioral health students

When Cheila Ditzler was a teenager, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in behavioral health care. After seeing the effects of behavioral health support firsthand, she knew the powerful impact it could make.

“I was diagnosed with major depression when I was 14 years old,” Cheila said. “Getting high-quality treatment completely changed my life. It made me realize this is really a field that’s so important and can be helpful for so many people and I wanted to be part of it.”

Cheila graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2006 and is now a registered nurse.

She’s also pursuing a doctorate degree with a specialty in psychiatric mental health – and serving on the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) student advisory board, where she helps the next generation of behavioral health specialists find their calling.

BHECN was created in 2009 to address Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce shortages. The center is dedicated to improving access to behavioral health care across Nebraska by developing a skilled and passionate workforce.

With the support of a $250,000 UnitedHealthcare grant, BHECN is expanding its educational opportunities and reaching more students going into behavioral health careers. The funding supported the development of a smartphone app that helps connect students to mentors in the field based on specialty.

“We are so grateful for the UnitedHealthcare grant because it has allowed us to really expand those opportunities to students,” said Dr. Marley Doyle, the director of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska. “We wanted to develop an app that allows students to find a mentor based on their interests, rather than their geographic location. It makes it accessible for students who live in rural areas to find mentors across the state.”

Having direct mentorship support when pursuing a career in behavioral health is a crucial piece of the journey for these students.

“My hope is to really work closely with other behavioral health professionals to provide the best quality of care that I can for patients,” Cheila said.

The funding has also helped BHECN host two virtual behavioral health conferences for undergrad and graduate level students, as well as support the creation of a student advisory board.

Approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population lives in a rural area — and about 6.5 million individuals in these areas have a mental illness. In Nebraska, 95% of its counties are classified as having a shortage of behavioral health professionals — and in fact, in a third of its counties, there are no behavioral health professionals at all.

“For rural communities specifically, our hope is that the students will be able to stay and train where they actually live, which increases their chances of working in and serving people in those areas,” Dr. Doyle said.

Dr. Doyle says recruiting, training and retaining behavioral health professionals has resulted in a 38% increase in those providers across the state but there is still work to do.

“My advice to students who are pursuing a career in behavioral health is to do it,” Cheila said. “It's such a rewarding career and it can make so much difference in people's lives.”

For more information on the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, its programs and opportunities for students and professionals in the field, visit BHECN’s website.

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