Assistant professor Cheryl Woods Giscombé, PhD, MSN, RN, PMHNP, has been named one of five 2015 Macy Faculty Scholars by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. This award includes salary support over two years, which Dr. Giscombé will use to develop an innovative educational institute that provides clinical experiences that strengthen the ability of pre-professional students to provide care to people who face mental health disparities.

The Macy Faculty Scholars program aims to accelerate reforms in health professions education in Schools of Nursing and Medicine to accommodate the changes occurring in health care practice and delivery. Award recipients are innovators and show promise as future leaders. Each school may nominate only one candidate each year. The UNC School of Nursing boasts two Macy Faculty Scholars, with Meg Zomorodi, PhD, RN, CNL, selected for the award last year.

Dr. Giscombé is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, social/health psychologist, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar. Her federally funded studies focus on reducing stress-related health disparities, investigating the cultural-relevance of mindfulness-meditation, and developing community-based, person-centered interventions to promote health. She also practices in a nurse-managed community health center in Durham, where she created the mental health services program five years ago.

Overcoming mental health disparities through training

“The Interprofessional Leadership Institute for Mental Health Equity that I am developing will focus on factors such as social determinates of health and health disparities, so I’m able to pull from not only my clinical practice but also from research I conduct on stress and health disparities and providing care to individuals from ethnically diverse groups who are underrepresented in various capacities,” she said.

Dr. Giscombé’s clinical practice will act as a pilot site for the institute by providing clinical training and internships for undergraduate and graduate students in various fields, including nursing, medicine, psychology, and social work. Students will be exposed to information about mental health disparities, contributing factors to underutilization of care, and the social determinants of health. They will also learn how to integrate this knowledge into patient care during assessment and treatment and how to partner with patients in a culturally sensitive way to promote optimal outcomes.

Students completing the program will receive a certificate documenting their exposure to care approaches that contribute to mental health equity. Dr. Giscombé also plans to develop a pipeline of pre-professional students from diverse backgrounds who will pursue professional careers in mental health care.

A solid foundation for innovation

As a Macy Faculty Scholar, Dr. Giscombé will attend education innovation courses at the Harvard Macy Institute and also receive mentorship from senior facility members. One of her mentors is Giselle Corbie-Smith, MD, a professor of social medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. Dr. Corbie-Smith directs the Center for Health Equity Research at UNC Chapel Hill and also teaches a course in the School of Medicine on how to address issues of health disparities and health equity.

Dr. Giscombé’s other mentor is Debra Barksdale, PhD, FNP-BC, ANP-BC, CNE, FAANP, FAAN, professor and director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the School of Nursing. Dr. Barksdale is a national nursing leader and sits on the Board of Governors for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

“The mentorship, networking, and courses at the Harvard Macy Institute give the scholars support and a strong foundation for developing the project that we have proposed and for which we have received funding,” Dr. Giscombé said.

At the end of up the two years of funding, Dr. Giscombé plans to have developed an Institute that is long-standing, sustainable, and scalable. “The Institute will ensure continued focus on issues related to mental health disparities and mental health equity and also increase the numbers of mental health professionals who are from diverse backgrounds but also who are prepared to address these disparities through their commitment to leadership and excellence in mental health.”

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