Expert Bio: Michael John Rice, PhD, APRN, FAAN

Aurora, CO
University of Colorado–Denver
Endowed Chair and Professor

Step up to the challenge, and help shape a vision of what it means to be someone who cares.

With an unbridled passion and extensive background in psychiatric-mental health nursing, Dr. Michael J. Rice continues to be on the forefront of this important nursing specialty through his work as Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychiatric Nursing at the University of Colorado School of Nursing. By helping build his department, Dr. Rice has committed to furthering the education of tomorrow's psychiatric nurse leaders. Read on for information on the psychiatric-mental health nursing degree and profession, as well as tips on how to succeed in this burgeoning field.

What is your career background? How did you end up in your position?

I have worked in every direct care role in psychiatric mental health nursing from a student nursing tech to Assistant Medical Director of a Community Mental Health hospital. I continue to be board-certified in advanced practice psychiatric nursing. I first obtained my BSN at Mount Marty College, in South Dakota, then obtained an MSN under Peplau’s NIMH traineeship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a PhD in Nursing Research at the University of Arizona as a National Research Service Award Fellow. I obtained funding for one of the first federally funded Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner programs in the U.S. and have authored/co-authored 53 grants for 15.6 million dollars from NIH, HRSA, PCORI, foundations and state legislatures. I have also consulted and assisted on the development of more than 5.5 million dollars of federally-funded psychiatric nurse practitioner programs across the nation. Internationally, I have advocated for biopsychophysical views in leadership of WHO ATLAS project discussion boards from 2007 to 2009 on psychiatric nursing curriculum and mental health technology. This work continues with developing international programs focusing on the middle eastern nations and Singapore. I have authored over 90 peer reviewed publications, and 20 invited/professional publications. My clinical model for evidence-based psychiatric practice continues to be the 5th most read in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Tell us about the psychiatric nursing department at the University of Colorado College of Nursing.

The CU College of Nursing program is a relatively new program. The CU program for graduate advanced practice closed in the early 2000s. It was initially restarted by Dr. Mary Weber in 2009, but she was the only qualified psychiatric nursing faculty member. I was hired in 2013 and together, we designed a new set of classes, moved the modules online and designed the Integrated Behavioral Health Care Curriculum for psychiatric nurse practitioners. We also were fortunate to hire a series of additional faculty. The additional faculty, while qualified, are young with limited or no academic backgrounds. These are energetic bright young people who are building their careers. Their addition, with mentoring, has given new energy to areas in behavioral health that have been long overlooked, such as cultural sensitivity and substance abuse treatment. The growth has also led to increased PhD and DNP students and a Post Doc focusing on genetics and the relationship to psychiatric mental health conditions.

Are there any particular areas of psychiatric nursing that you find yourself drawn to?

I am supportive of Integrated Behavioral Healthcare. One of the most overlooked statistics is that individuals suffering from psychiatric illnesses die much earlier than those without a psychiatric illness. In general, I have worked in a variety of areas including clinical practice and community work focused on the total life span, and issues such as neonatal outcomes for abused women, child mental health assessments, recovery and suicide prevention for veterans, geropsychopharmacology, and integrated care. The thrust of these efforts is to alter the trajectory of the lives of those suffering from psychiatric disorders and expand the workforce looking at these issues. I feel that this is the best model for treatment of patients in the future.

Why should prospective nurses go into psychiatric-mental health nursing?

The current research shows that there is a close physical relationship between the mental health of a person and something called inflammatory cytokines, which is the inflammation response. The inflammation process is often in response to any stressor that affects an individual. This includes diabetes, obesity, trauma and physical illnesses. The great tragedy in American health care is that the overlooked conditions have a direct association with mood disorders and psychiatric illnesses. It is impossible to have any illness and not have your mental health affected. If young people are serious about treating illnesses, then they need to enroll in the profession and chase these hidden connections affecting the mental health of the nation.

If young people are serious about treating illnesses, then they need to enroll in the profession and chase these hidden connections affecting the mental health of the nation.

What are some of the challenges that psychiatric nurses face?

Psychiatric nurses face using what is currently evidence-based knowledge, to deal with illnesses and diseases that need more research….the issue is often that the public opinion and the reimbursement models do not support the use of evidence-based care. For example, the treatment that is the most effective for primary insomnia is not medications (often the benzodiazapam agents). The science indicates that the most effective treatment for insomnia is an online cognitive behavior therapy manual. This allows patients to work through the issues of being present and realistic thoughts and tension that often cause insomnia without resorting to medications.

In your opinion, what makes a good nurse?

A good nurse is someone who is ethical, caring and will stand their ground like my young friend Alex Wubbles. The issue faced here is that it is often expedient to provide care at little or no risk to ourselves and with the least effort possible. What good nurses do, is advocate for and protect their patients using the best approaches possible, sometimes at seeming risk. The reality is as noted in Ms. Wubbles case, that we are trusted to do what is right for the patient. We must care for the patients first, even when it seems like the hard thing to do.

As a male in the nursing field, do you think more can be done to attract more males to the profession?

I have been asked this my entire career, since I was one of 5-6 nursing students. This is not on me or men, but on the women who populate the profession. I have often been selected, and I am aware of it, not because I am a good nurse, but because I serve someone else’s need for a token male. Under those circumstances, the nursing profession will never change. Nurses cannot get the equality they deserve and demand without offering the same level of inclusion to all genders, races or ethnicities.

What can (or should) nursing students do in school to ensure success in the future workforce?

Recognize that they are on a path of lifelong learning, so learning how to learn is the biggest step…I then suggest they chase their passion. If there is a group of people suffering from an illness, a type of client they prefer or a challenge they want to take on, they need to chase that. Follow your heart, find your destiny and the rest will come.

Any other advice you have for those interested in nursing as a profession?

Learn all you can about those things you are passionate about. Make it a life-long journey, in that you must be responsible for what it means to be a nurse. You have to get involved. You can’t expect people to do it for you. Do not expect others to provide all the work comforts you need, that will always end in disappointment. Too often nurses have relied on others to define them. This has led to disappointments and frustration due to poorly written legislation, bad public policies and a sense of being out of control of your own profession. Step up to the challenge, and help shape a vision of what it means to be someone who cares. Raise your voice and be the professional you always dreamed of being.