WSU student honored for dedication to mental healthcare

Closeup of Derek Greenwood.
Derek Greenwood

Derek Greenwood is familiar with the growing concerns of access to psychiatric care in rural communities as he himself struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues growing up in the small town of Centerville, Washington, which has a population of 101.

The Washington State University Tri-Cities student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program, was recently awarded the Lois Spratlen Foundation Scholarship for his efforts serving those in rural areas with similar struggles to his own. Just a handful of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner students in the state of Washington receive the award each year.

“Underserved rural communities suffer from a lack of healthcare in general and mental healthcare in particular,” Greenwood said. “If mental health providers do come to our towns, they often come from larger cities with different morals, concerns, and lifestyles and lack an understanding of the rural, Native American, or migrant farmworker populations that live here.”

Apart from being a full-time graduate student, Greenwood works as an emergency room registered nurse in Goldendale, Washington and as a clinical instructor in a community college nursing program in The Dalles, Oregon.

“For many years, I was addicted, homeless and living on the streets, a shelter resident, in rehab, chronically unemployable, and more,” he said. “This personal experience allows me to compassionately connect with patients and bring an understanding of how hard change can be and what I and the healthcare system can do to help achieve it. Having been downtrodden and hopeless before, I aim to not only treat and counsel patients but also serve as an example of what sufferers of substance use disorder and mental health conditions can achieve when we do the hard work of recovery.”

…I aim to not only treat and counsel patients but also serve as an example of what sufferers of substance use disorder and mental health conditions can achieve when we do the hard work of recovery.

Derek Greenwood, student
WSU Tri-Cities

Aside from monetary assistance toward education, the Lois Spratlen Foundation scholarship provides a free one-year membership in the Association of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses and free admission to their annual conference, which Greenwood expressed he is looking forward to.

Greenwood credits his advisor, Bevan Briggs, academic director of the WSU Tri-Cities College of Nursing, for helping him choose where to study and encouraging him to apply for the scholarship.

“Derek has made a difference in his community and has a passion for helping individuals with substance abuse disorder,” said Briggs. “He stands out as a leader for the Doctor of Nursing Practice students at WSU Tri-Cities. He has extensive experience and skill and will continue to be a great help for his community and for the state of Washington.”

Greenwood chose to attend WSU Tri-Cities over other programs because the Mid-Columbia region mirrors the population he seeks to work with.

“I am dedicated to remaining a rural psychiatric provider, so I thought it best to learn my craft among the populations I will serve here east of the Cascades,” he said.

The DNP program at WSU Tri-Cities collaborates with other WSU campuses, where student cohorts receive top-tier education from instructors with a variety of backgrounds and fields of expertise.

“Dr. Jose Pares-Avila, based at WSU Vancouver, was instrumental in testifying to the foundation regarding my academic ability and character. His support was essential. Additionally, Dr. Julie Postma, based in Spokane, provided invaluable encouragement. And, of course, Dr. Bevan Briggs of WSU Tri-Cities,” Greenwood said. “We Richland DNP students may be based in the Tri-Cities, but our cohort and instructors span the entire WSU constellation, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t advocate for them to be mentioned, no matter their physical location.”

Greenwood plans to graduate with his Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in June of 2025, and hopes to practice for a small rural healthcare organization in eastern Washington. “Preferably somewhere I could ride my horse to work if I wanted,” he said.

Visit the WSU Tri-Cities DNP program website for more information about the program.

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