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New $1.8 million grant helps UI build future mental health workforce across Iowa

Mobile Clinic volunteers
Date: Monday, July 12, 2021

Addressing a shortage of mental health experts in rural parts of the state

Iowa faces a shortage of mental health experts who live and work in rural Iowa communities, but the state is not alone in its struggles. Across the country, there is a critical need for more PhD-level psychologists and master level social workers who can care for and address the mental and behavioral health needs of rural youth. University of Iowa Health Care is teaming up with the UI College of Education to solve this problem, thanks to a four-year $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).

The grant will allow UI Health Care to expand training of mental health experts through its student-run mobile health clinic, which is staffed by volunteer medical students who conduct outreach in rural and medically underserved communities. While the mobile health clinic has provided some mental health services to date, the new grant significantly expands its ability to train more Counseling Psychology doctoral and Masters in Social Work (MSW) students from the College of Education, as well as Carver of College Medicine students specializing in mental health services. 

“We found that there are a lot of people served by our mobile health clinic who are in need of mental health care,” says Denise Martinez, MD, faculty director of the UI Mobile Health Clinic. “At the height of the pandemic, our counseling psychology trainees were doing a lot of grief counseling around COVID death because patients had nowhere else to go. They also saw a significant increase in demand for telehealth follow-up visits. So, we know there is a real need to expand mental health services among the populations served by our mobile health clinic.”

Reaching underserved populations through mobile health clinic outreach

The UI mobile health clinic regularly visits 12 outreach sites in rural eastern Iowa communities to provide free health care services, partnering with shelters, food pantries, local community centers, and churches, to reach underserved populations. Student volunteers who run the clinic are completing training in medicine, physical therapy, dentistry, nursing, social work, and more. These students are always supervised by UI physicians and licensed providers. 

“There are a lot of communities in Iowa that just don’t have good access to care, especially mental health care,” Martinez says. “The clinics have been an impactful thing for those communities. It’s also a plus for trainees as they get to help people who can hopefully inspire them to continue to work with groups like this throughout their career. There is evidence that shows that residents who train in rural communities are more likely to practice there after their training is completed.”

Expanding training opportunities for mental health experts

In addition to expanding mental health training opportunities through the mobile health clinic, the grant funds will be used to support the following: 

  • New courses, seminars, and trainings that will lead to a subspecialty track in child and adolescent mental health 
  • Supervision and training experiences with partners in family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and social work 
  • New training experiences for students in telehealth
  • Opportunities for students to learn and practice in multi-disciplinary teams 
  • Create a workforce development plan for retaining students after they graduate to stay in Iowa to serve rural communities