How online learning is transforming mental health care

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Online learning is a popular choice for medical professionals within the US healthcare system, mainly due to its increased accessibility and convenience. This means people who are already in the field can experience a more personalized learning journey and take their time while doing so. As a result, practitioners who are already busy with work have a better chance of retaining the knowledge they are taught and applying it to real-world situations.

Learning online also tends to be a more cost-effective choice, as it cuts out the expenses involved with travel, lodgings and taking time off work to attend in-person training each week. Although the courses are delivered by a faculty with years of experience in psychiatric care settings, they can be accessed from anywhere. All that’s needed is an internet connection. This means nurses who are planning to move into a mental health care role or to update their skills can learn from home.

Online learning is a huge asset when it comes to promoting patient-centered care because it provides a community in which ideas around best practices can be exchanged. In both online discussion groups and forums, mental health nurses can share ideas and experiences, while expanding their professional network.

Online learning for mental health professionals

In previous years, completing a Master of Science in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing would have been impractical for many registered nurses. However, reputable institutions like Wilkes University have leveraged the accessible nature of these online programs and are helping to transform how professionals can train. As a result, nurses can now expect to enjoy flexibility as they gain a quality education and work at a manageable pace that fits in with their other commitments.

Nurses with an RN license can enroll in one of the online PMHNP programs where they will study topics such as advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, psychopharmacology and advanced practice in psychiatric/mental health nursing. Students are provided with solid support throughout their local clinical placement and learn to provide compassionate, patient-centered care.

What is patient-centered care?

Various kinds of patient-centered care are taught successfully in an online environment. In essence, this form of medical care focuses on treating patients with empathy and respect, as well as offering support when making healthcare or treatment decisions. In a psychiatric setting, this means patients are made aware of the diagnosis a practitioner has made, which treatments could be beneficial to them, and what the outcomes of these could be.

Rather than the medical team making decisions behind closed doors and then presenting their conclusions to the patient, the patient and their family are more involved in the process. Any healthcare professional who deals with mental health patients can use a patient-centered approach.

Patient-centered care ensures patients remain informed about their care and often makes people feel more comfortable with their treatment and boosts their satisfaction levels. It is especially important in mental healthcare provision because this form of care encourages people to be more compliant when it comes to medication and to play an active role in their recovery. As a result, online learning programs strive to teach the principles of patient-centered care and advance the skills of caregivers in the mental health field.

Why is real-world training necessary?

In a psychiatric setting, the ability to identify and assess mental health problems is crucial. That’s why part of any online learning program will involve equipping students with the medical knowledge and skills they need to recognize when a mental health patient needs help and to work as part of a team to take swift appropriate action. Aside from viewing lectures and completing coursework, students also typically take part in placements. These exercises support the training of mental health professionals and ensure they graduate with the competencies required to deliver exceptional care.

Studies have shown that students learn more effectively when they are involved in immersive training experiences that replicate the way real-life situations might play out. Within healthcare courses, these are provided through clinical placements. Fortunately, students enrolled in remote learning courses can often arrange a placement within a reasonable driving distance.

These training opportunities are invaluable for students as they are supervised and overseen by experienced professionals and often a mentor who is always available to offer one-to-one support for the learning nurse. These practitioners work in the facility and are able to offer the students in their care advice and assess how well they have achieved their learning goals.

Close supervision makes clinical placements a safe space for students to acquire knowledge and learn to take a compassionate approach to care, without creating any element of risk for patients. Students are working in a real-life situation, but it is controlled and remains secure for everyone involved, and is a very common and useful method of teaching.

How patient-centered care is promoted during training

Students who have the necessary skills and understanding to correctly identify problems, and then provide empathetic treatment to patients, will be a benefit to those they care for and their employer. To produce nurses who are competent in terms of their practice and confident enough to act quickly when addressing mental health concerns, online universities encourage students to make evidence-based medical decisions.

Teaching can take many forms, but often instructors use real-world scenarios as a starting point for a lecture, which helps students to get the most from their clinical training. They will encourage the class to move at a pace that suits them when on a ward, provide instruction on advanced clinical decision-making and set tasks during which students must diagnose a patient based on the notes provided. This gives learners the freedom to make mistakes or miss crucial pieces of information without posing any risk to a real person.

These exercises inform the students’ experience as they move into a clinical placement where they will be expected to read a patient’s medical history and take notes, as well as deliver patient-centered care under the guidance of a senior practitioner. Time spent at the bedside with patients enables students to refine their decision-making and critical thinking abilities, in addition to providing an authentic experience treating people suffering from mental illness. In these scenarios, learners must think like professionals, remember what they have been taught in lectures, and apply their skills in clinical situations that may be challenging.

Although reading, coursework and lectures are major components of an online course in mental health, clinical work enriches a student’s education and helps fill in any knowledge gaps. By dealing with real people, who may be in distress, and playing a role in their recovery, students develop their skills when it comes to empathetic care and expand their understanding of mental illness.

How online learning prepares mental health nurses for practice

Distance learning nursing programs allow students to live at home while training for their advanced degree. The academic teams who manage each course are experienced and knowledgeable in their field and provide excellent support and educational opportunities. As many of the elements taught in these courses are delivered in a virtual environment, students can access seminars, lectures and training videos that meet their learning needs at a time that suits them. This is a very flexible way of learning about mental health nursing, but also one that provides personalized support to every student.

Keeping up with the latest innovations in mental health care

As professionals with a great deal of nursing experience, instructors in mental health education work hard to keep the program current. This ensures their students can meet the demands of a changing healthcare system when they graduate, but it also keeps the course relevant, and maintains its quality. As they have worked in healthcare, the academic team understands the importance of their own professional development and how lifelong learning enables them to keep the program constantly updated. From identifying the needs of hospitals and clinics when it comes to new staff, to spotting gaps in the curriculum that could become opportunities for further learning, online tutors can adapt their courses quickly. In part, this is because the learning resources they offer are presented online, rather than in print form.

Students can express their concerns

Trainers in any academic environment need to understand the worries and fears of their students concerning the clinical environment they will face. In mental health nursing, this can be a key concern because some students will have preconceptions about patients and the wards on which they are treated. Tutors can step in to provide reassurance and alleviate the concerns of trainees. This may involve reinforcing the idea of teamwork, so the students know they are not alone on the ward. Instructors will also recognize that learners may not be aware of what is expected of them during clinical work and will play an active role in terms of leadership and support, as well as teaching.

Mental health patients treated in different wards and environments are all unique, so tutors or mentors will always be available and close to students during the first few days of a new placement. They will use online meetings to prepare students in advance for challenging experiences and familiarize learners with the situations they will face. They will provide guidelines regarding managing patients, good communication techniques and self-awareness.

In virtual training scenarios, students have the opportunity to learn more about working in the real world, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Along with the time they spend at a placement, training allows students to learn more about themselves and be motivated to improve as a result. They begin to understand more about the skills required to succeed, how to build their confidence, and gain a deeper understanding of what the patient is experiencing.

Ensuring that students are mentally prepared for the nursing environment

There is a thin line between empathizing with a patient and being visibly upset by their condition. During online workshops, students will gain a deeper understanding of how to establish effective communication with the people in their care, without getting too close and oversharing personal details. In training scenarios, the tutor will use various setups to help students manage their concerns. Primarily, this will involve getting in touch via email or through the university portal to speak with trainees before, during and after their clinical placement to discuss each patient they have cared for.

Student nurses are encouraged to speak about their feelings, how the communication went and any problems that emerged. This reflective practice can encourage trainees to manage their concerns by enhancing their medical knowledge as well as improving their soft skills, such as listening and teach-back, which ensures patients understand what is being said.

The advantages of online training for mental health nursing

Online courses make it easier for nurses to climb the career ladder, while continuing to work. They allow students to work at their own pace, manage their time independently and complete detailed coursework from the comfort of home. Most online universities have a platform that allows students to connect with faculty members and other students effortlessly. In addition to facilitating swifter, more effective communication, these platforms can support online learning by sending reminders and allowing students to keep track of their progress.

Online learning continues to grow in popularity throughout the US and has an important role in transforming patient-centered psychiatric care. It makes upskilling more accessible for medical professionals, allows people to customize their training and enables the healthcare system to effectively tackle the problem of understaffing.