SPOKANE, Wash. — The Intercollegiate College of Nursing/Washington State University College of Nursing Medically Indigent Rural Area (MIRA) Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program has been awarded the prestigious Educause Award for Excellence in Information Technology Solutions.

MIRA has become a model of technology-based collaboration that allows graduate nursing students in rural areas to attend class remotely, obtain supervised hours required for licensure, and receive a master’s level psychiatric nurse practitioner degree without relocating.

Educause, one of the preeminent associations addressing complex challenges in information technology to support and advance higher education, gives the award to projects that serve internal or external clients, provide for professional development, or otherwise apply the potential of information technologies to the scholarship, service and management that support the mission of the institution.

“The technology that makes the MIRA program unique involves the combination of classroom instruction and clinical supervision using a variety of learning methods and tools,” said Dr. Michael Rice, College of Nursing associate professor and MIRA program administrator. “Further, it provides preceptor expertise for improved patient care and facilitates ongoing mentoring relationships in a large state with a widely dispersed population, a high need for psychiatric care and limited locations for professional training.”

Funded by a $748,000 Health Resource Services Administration grant awarded in 2000, Rice was motivated to start the MIRA program when he realized the startling geographic inequalities of Washington state suicide rates. The incidence of rural suicide is significantly higher than that of urban areas, and yet, mental health services in rural areas are far more sparse.

Rice’s solution involved the use of combined technology to educate students in remote locations by offering a way to earn an advanced psychiatric nurse practitioner degree without relocating; thus increasing the chances of the graduate practicing in their own rural community.

The MIRA program uses an Internet protocol (IP) videoconference network in combination with the Washington Higher Education Telecommunication System, WSU Cooperative Extension offices, WSU Learning Centers, and the Inland Northwest Health Services agency. Use of the IP videoconferencing has already increased enrollment in the psychiatric nurse practitioner program by 900 percent, which exceeds the grant target by 118 percent. Of that student pool, 70 percent live more than 100 miles from the main Spokane campus. Rice believes the MIRA project serves as a model for other states looking to enhance distance learning while addressing dire social conditions in rural communities.

Rice will accept the award in October on behalf of the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing MIRA Program during the Educause annual conference held in Atlanta.

A segment of the award reads: “Our committee commends (the MIRA) project particularly for its effective and innovative use of technology for high social benefit and the challenge it presents to other states.”

Established in 1968, the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing is the nation’s first, oldest and most comprehensive nursing education consortium. The College of Nursing offers baccalaureate, graduate and professional development course work to nursing students enrolled through its four consortium partners: Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Washington State University and Whitworth College. Each year, the college educates more than 600 graduate and upper-division undergraduate students and prepares more entry-level nurses than any other educational institution in the state. For more information, visit the college Web site at nursing.wsu.edu.