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

Dr. Michael Rice, College of Nursing associate professor and MIRA program administrator, accepted the award Oct. 2 on behalf of the college’s 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.”

MIRA has become a national 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.

“The need for psychiatric nurse practitioners in rural Washington state is astounding,” said Rice. “With increased funding we can begin to meet the psychiatric health care needs of Washington’s underserved communities.”

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. 2002 statistics show rural suicide rates were up to 16.3 per 100,000 people, which exceeds the state wide urban average by 3.6. The U.S. Surgeon General’s office and the Washington State Department of Health have identified barriers to accessing mental health treatment as a major risk factor for suicide. Rice’s solution involves 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, Washington State University Cooperative Extension offices, Washington State University 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 nursing campus in Spokane. 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.

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 professional development, or otherwise apply the potential of information technologies to the scholarship, service, and management that support the mission of the institution.

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 about the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing, visit the college Web site at nursing.wsu.edu.