Federal Grant gives millions to develop mental health professionals at Fisher



After the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. John Fisher College was awarded a new $1.8 million federal grant to promote the Mental Health Counseling and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner master’s degree program.

The grant has two major goals: to create the capacity in the community for integrated care, for young people and underrepresented care, and for mental health people and primary care providers to begin working together as a team. 

Matthew Cieplicki, SGA Senator for the Wegmans School of Nursing believes that more “diversity represented can allow people to feel more accepted in their care,” while the current system has built-in structural inequalities. An increase in diversity would allow for care that is both more “natural and relatable” according to Cieplicki. This grant will allow Fisher to take on a proactive approach that Ciepliki believes could both save lives and foster important conversations.

 Dr. Robert Rice helped to apply for the grants and is an Associate Professor in the Mental Health Counseling Program here at Fisher. He clarified that most of the money will go directly to students in these programs. Any student who does placement at an integrated setting will receive $10,000 toward tuition. The school hopes that this will allow for people from underrepresented communities who may not have been able to afford it to attend Fisher. Rice hopes this will allow Fisher to have “more people from underrepresented communities who may not have been able to attend Fisher and better mirror the populations we are trying to serve”.  “I hope that students are excited– excited about the opportunity to be ahead of the curve and learn new skills on the cutting edge of where the field is going”.

. “It honestly gets pushed under the rug a lot these days,” Senior Nursing Student Kyle Sacco, who works as a patient care technician in pediatric-inpatient behavioral-health at Strong Memorial Hospital, said. 

“People don’t believe that mental health is really a real issue or see anyone in their life struggling so they think it’s fake.” Sacco goes on to touch on the stigma of mental health in the community. “People pay more attention to other aspects of medicine because they think the only problems that are fixable are the ones they can see.” 

Cieplicki agreed, “No matter how good your physical health is, if you are struggling mentally you won’t truly be able to enjoy any of it.” One goal of the program is to get mental health care in someone’s primary care office, something Rice said would help to reduce that stigma. 

“Mental health seems to be more prevalent of an issue than ever before,” Rice said. Cieplicki refers to it as a “snowball effect”, with feelings of isolation and anxiety compounding on each other during the pandemic. Sacco is hopeful that increased awareness of and resources towards mental health care on campus will help the Fisher community as a whole. “People don’t know that kids around here are struggling.” He makes the point that many

physical medical issues that people often think of as health can often heal themselves with little to no medical care, but someone who is suicidal often doesn’t have that ability. 

The grants are focused on graduate students, but Rice clarifies that a psychology undergraduate degree is not necessary and that “plenty of Fisher undergrad apply” to the program.




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