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Partnerships help NMSU psychopharmacology program thrive during COVID-19

The clinical psychopharmacology program at New Mexico State University is a unique program with students from across North America and the world, attracting practicing psychologists looking to obtain training and a master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology.


Woman with training mannequin
Alexa Doig, director of the School of Nursing at New Mexico State University, performs a physical assessment on a training mannequin inside of a lab at NMSU’s College of Health and Social Services. The NMSU School of Nursing recently partnered with the NMSU clinical psychopharmacology program, housed in the College of Education, to host the hands-on portion of the program, which consists of both online and in-person courses. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)
Woman practicing with training mannequin
Katie Gimbel, a clinical assistant professor at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, demonstrates a physical assessment on a training mannequin in a St. Ambrose campus lab. St. Ambrose and New Mexico State University’s clinical psychopharmacology program have partnered to temporarily offer the in-person portion of the clinical psychopharmacology degree program due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, allowing students to complete the program without having to travel to New Mexico. (Courtesy of St. Ambrose University)

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hybrid program faced challenges early on that have since been overcome with the help of partnerships both on campus and with St. Ambrose University in Iowa.

“The needs of our students are being met while following stringent pandemic controls,” said Casey McDougall, training director of the NMSU clinical psychopharmacology program. “We’ve allowed students access to our staff and facilities, and with the help of St. Ambrose University, students from out-of-state can still continue on with our program.”

The clinical psychopharmacology program, housed in the NMSU College of Education, is the only post-doctoral program the university offers. It is also one of the few American Psychology Association-designated training and education programs among clinical psychopharmacology programs offered in the U.S.

A degree in clinical psychopharmacology allows psychologists to make psychotropic medication recommendations, enhance consultation, safely prescribe augmented psychological interventions as needed, and remove any unnecessary medications as defined by state law.

The program is designed to meet the needs of employed licensed psychologists who attend training sessions both online and in person. Training sessions take place on weekends periodically during the two-year curriculum. Students must also complete intensive supervised clinical fieldwork and a capstone examination as additional degree requirements.

Because of New Mexico’s quarantine requirement for visitors from out of state, many students were unable to travel to the NMSU campus for the in-person training sessions. With the help of NMSU Provost Carol Parker, McDougall was able to find a partner in SAU, which hosted an equivalent intensive continuing education workshop, with in-person labs, for 11 students in the NMSU program. Working with its continuing education provider – the Southwest Institute for the Advancement of Psychotherapy – the program was able to rent space at SAU and compensate subject-matter expert Katie Gimbel, a clinical associate professor at SAU, to oversee the workshop.

“The Iowa-based location of the training made perfect sense,” McDougall said “Many of our students reside in the region, and the program is supporting Iowa to increase its field strength of prescribing psychologists. In 2016, Iowa passed legislation allowing psychologists to practice prescriptive authority within the scope of psychopharmacology.”

For students closer to campus, McDougall partnered with the NMSU School of Nursing to use the school’s labs. Two NMSU faculty members from the School of Nursing – assistant professor Thomas Hayth and associate professor Stephanie Lynch – are teaching the hands-on portion of the physical assessment course at NMSU.

“This is another example of two programs on campus coming together to leverage our facilities and faculty expertise,” said Alexa Doig, director of the NMSU School of Nursing. “The School of Nursing is delighted to be able to support Dr. McDougall and the students in the clinical psychopharmacology program.”

Part of the hand-on learning students must complete includes the use of a training mannequin that simulates abnormal gut, heart and lung sounds. COVID-19 safety guidelines are implemented during each lab session.

“Our weekend training course in physical assessment provided two days of training to learn, observe and practice hands-on physical assessment,” said student Amanda MacKinnon, a practicing psychologist at Holloman Air Force Base. “This opportunity allowed me to move from traditional book learning to application of that learning in real time. This was an important step in my professional development as it pushed me to develop a comfort level with getting physically close to a patient in order to evaluate body systems.”

For more information about the clinical psychopharmacology program, visit https://cep.nmsu.edu/academic-programs/clinical-psychopharmacology/.