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Mental health nurse credentialing

Photo: Get credentialed: Australian College of Mental Hea
The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses introduced its Credential for Practice Program 10 years ago. The program recognises the qualifications, skills and experience of about 1400 mental health nurses and is also working to strengthen the profession, writes Karen Keast.

Since 2004, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses’ (ACMHN) Credential for Practice Program (CPP) has been setting a new benchmark in mental health nursing.

The College developed the program in response to changes to nursing education and regulating policy in Australia in the 1990s.

As many entry psychiatric/mental health nursing courses were being phased out, the ACMHN stepped up its self-governance role, developing practice standards and the credentialing program.

Anne Buck, ACMHN policy and stakeholder engagement manager, says the program stands as the only recognition system in Australia that identifies mental health nurses.

“It is basically used to identify to the employers, to the consumers and to colleagues who is a mental health nurse,” she says.

“Without that, there isn’t a mechanism by which you can distinguish between a nurse who has undertaken additional qualifications in mental health nursing and a nurse who has no additional qualifications in the area of mental health nursing.

“What the credential is actually saying is this person has not only undertaken specialist qualifications but they’re maintaining their professional development and they’re maintaining their practice in the area of mental health nursing.”

What is credentialing?

A credentialed mental health nurse is a specialist nurse who has demonstrated the CPP criteria, as established by the ACMHN, in the areas of education, practice experience, professional development and professional integrity.

To become credentialed through the CPP, mental health nurses must meet a range of criteria, such as being a registered nurse in Australia, holding a specialist/post graduate mental health nursing qualification and must have demonstrated duration of practice - 12 months’ experience since completion of their specialist/post graduate mental health nursing qualification or three years’ experience as a registered nurse working in a mental health context.

They must also be able to show recency of practice in mental health, continuing professional development, be supported by two professional referees and make a declaration agreeing to uphold the standards of the profession.

Ms Buck says credentialing is a verification process.

“The application form guides the nurse through the information they need to provide,” she says.

“They provide us with the information and the evidence to demonstrate that they’ve got a qualification, that they’ve been registered as a nurse, and that they have got the experience and recent practice that our criteria require.

“There is a CPD log that needs to be provided as part of the application and a couple of references.”

Applications are first checked administratively before credentialed mental health nurses, who have undertaken a training program, assess the applications through the College’s peer-review process.

From the time the application is submitted, it takes around six weeks to be processed and reviewed and for the nurse to be informed of the outcome of their credentialing application.

Ms Buck says the credentialing program is a great investment in nurses’ professional development.

“They initially find it to be daunting at first glance…because it requires nurses to reflect on themselves and put some time towards themselves, which as a profession nurses are not particularly good at doing.”

The credentialing application fee is $485 and credentialing is awarded for three years.

Support for credentialing

Ms Buck says the program, developed by mental health nurses for mental health nurses, has received strong support from within the profession.

“There are nurses who are managers who are promoting credentialing to their staff and encouraging their staff to obtain their credential so that they can demonstrate their commitment to the profession and their professional development in the interest of getting promotions and developing their careers,” she says.

The federal government has utilised the credential recognition as an identifier of mental health nurses for several federal government programs.

Now the Queensland Department of Health has come on board, as the first state taking the initiative to provide funding and support to credential 325 of its mental health nurses employed by Hospital and Health Services.
Under the pioneering move, Queensland Health nurses will be able to apply for credentialing free of charge until June 30, 2014.

The ACMHN hopes other states and territories will also consider supporting the credentialing of their mental health nurses.

“Queensland Department of Health has a policy that came into being in 2013 that sets an aspirational goal that all mental health nurses are to be credentialed through our credentialing program,” she says.

“Their goal out of this is to promote credentialing and get the nurses credentialed because they understand it’s an important element contributing to quality mental health nursing services for consumers and their families.”

Not only is credentialing important for mental health nurses, it’s also bolstering the profession.

“I think this project is going to be tremendously important for the profession,” Ms Buck says.

“It was developed by mental health nurses, by the profession, and it’s run by the profession and that’s because mental health nurses are committed to their professional identity.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords