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USF Graduates First Behavioral Healthcare Majors

While over 6,000 students around the USF System received their diplomas earlier this month, four students stood out as the first graduates in the brand new major of Behavioral Healthcare.

Shamery Fernandez, Candice Ormsby, Heather Palmisano and Shonda Richardson were among 90 students who signed up for the Behavioral Healthcare major when it was launched earlier this year.

The four were already pursuing behavioral healthcare as a minor, so that meant they only had to take a handful of courses to complete the Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Healthcare.

And it’s an important degree for a number of reasons. First, as Robert Boothroyd, the Chair of USF’s Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, explains, behavioral healthcare professionals treat a variety of problems.

“A range of mental health disorders from kids with emotional behavioral problems to individuals with depression to persons with schizophrenia. On the addictive disorders, from alcohol and substance abuse, prescription drug use,” said Boothroyd.

“I think if you sort of reflect on the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Connecticut," he added, "there’s been a lot of positive discourse about the need for growth in terms of behavioral healthcare services and access to care.”

Catherine Batsche, the Associate Dean of USF’s College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, adds that there are simply not enough service providers.

“This program is responding to something that was identified by the Surgeon General of the United States, and basically, he identified a workforce crisis in the field of behavioral healthcare," Batsche said. "The workforce crisis was due to the fact that there weren’t people who were trained in evidence-based practices in the field and we didn’t have enough people who understood the concept of recovery.”

Academic Programs Director, Associate Professor Larry Thompson, says the major allows students opportunities to interact with people living with these issues, as well as the professionals who work with them at almost two dozen groups and agencies around the Tampa Bay region.

“In our field, we have found that many take jobs without any preparation, and so they’re dumped into some pretty critical jobs, such as case manager with the homeless population or maybe an emergency screener for people who have been Baker Acted," said Thompson, "and so we’re trying to prepare give them some tools to use in these positions.”

Thompson added that the field experience can also serve as an eye-opener.

“It’s very important because they learn what it’s really like and they might come back and say, ‘Oops! I made a mistake, I don’t really want to work with children!’ But that’s part of the learning process,” he said.

And the inaugural graduates have nothing but praise for the program.

“The professors have been awesome, every single one of them, I can tell you, I’ve taken something from each class, from each professor,” said Candice Ormsby, while Heather Palmisano added: “I would recommend this program to anyone that’s even looking into psychology, because it really compliments it and gives you the experience you need to be able to work in the field.”

All four plan to pursue their graduate degrees—Palmisano is pursuing her certification as an assistant behavior analyst, while Ormsby has already been offered a pair of jobs, including one at the service provider she did her internship.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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