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Alumna Alyssa Forslin’s experience as a family nurse practitioner who witnesses daily the needs of her patients has brought her back to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to be among the first to pursue a post-graduate certificate in psychiatric mental health.

“In many ways, those of us in family practice are already called upon to meet the mental healthcare needs for a significant number of the patients we serve. The need is large and while we have training to do this–it often does not feel like enough,” said the 2021 UWO Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) emphasis graduate.

At ThedaCare in Waupaca, Forslin provides care for families from infants to elderly. She also serves veterans at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Home in King.

“We as providers meet patients where they are—often in their worst moments and phases of life. They need help now and the wait for a psychiatrist is often six months or more. Patients come to us, and some are deeply depressed, others uncontrollably anxious, grieving, in emotional pain, unable to sleep, unable to meet the needs of themselves or their families, and even suicidal at times,” she said.

“It is our role to keep them safe; connect them with the resources they need; start an appropriate medication when necessary; act in the role of therapist when needed; help them to feel cared for and heard. And in doing all of this—ensuring that we cause no harm.”

Forslin’s motivation to return to UWO is to gain a better understanding of the tools required to meet the needs of the community she cares for so much.

“Specifically in the rural community I serve, having access to care locally is important. For a person already struggling, telling them that they need to drive 30 minutes or more for care is not the best answer. For some, traveling that distance is not possible,” Forslin said.

The great need combined with a shortage of mental healthcare professionals in Wisconsin prompted UWO’s College of Nursing to launch a bachelor of science in nursing to doctor of nursing practice (BSN-DNP) psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) emphasis
this fall.

In addition, a new post-graduate PMHNP certificate was created for current family nurse practitioners like Forslin.

“The number of PMHNP programs throughout the state is limited, with most centered around the Madison and Milwaukee areas, leaving northern Wisconsin lacking in educational options for psychiatric health providers. UWO is well-positioned to help fill the need throughout the Fox Valley, northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan,” said Bonnie Nickasch, who directs the new programs.

Nickasch herself is a dual certified family and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with extensive experience working with patients who struggle with substance abuse. Shelley Strojny, a senior lecturer with the program, is a certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who specializes in caring for children and adolescents.

UWO’s knowledgeable and caring nursing faculty create lasting connections with their students, forming a vast network across the state.

“I have chosen UWO because over the last seven years it has become my academic home,” Forslin said. “My journey through the DNP program helped me to form many connections with fellow students. For the last 1½ years I also have taught part time in the College of Nursing. At UWO the hearts and brains of nurses are strong—and we only become stronger by working together to continue to learn ourselves and to teach the next generation of nurses.”

Learn more about UWO’s graduate nursing programs at

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