Tennessee’s Investment in Future Mental Health Pros $15,000 Scholarships

Tennessee’s Investment in Future Mental Health Pros: $15,000 Scholarships

A new Tennessee state scholarship program is paying for students’ post-graduate degrees in behavioral health, to reduce the state’s mental health professional shortfall. The award provides qualifying students with up to $15,000 in tuition aid over two years.

To apply, students must be Tennessee residents pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, psychiatric nursing, social work, psychology, or a related behavioral health specialty. In exchange, for each semester financed by the program, students agree to work for a Tennessee public behavioral health provider for the same period.

“The biggest barrier is the cost of it,” said Carsen Hill, a scholarship recipient and current University of Tennessee graduate student. Hill was about to give up on her dream of becoming a therapist when she received the award notification email.

“Just crying, calling everybody, screenshotting the email to everybody,” Hill said. “I was kind of in a financial situation at the time, and it just came at the perfect time.”

Hill was recovering from an opioid addiction approximately eight years ago. After rehab and intense, trauma-informed treatment, she began to fantasize about assisting people battling with addiction, possibly even working at the same clinics where she was treated.

“It would just really be kind of a full circle thing for me,” she went on to say.

The scholarship was established during the August special legislative session as part of the Tennessee General Assembly’s overall effort to retain and recruit mental health professionals.

“I will say that all of them are struggling for staff,” Smith stated about the clinics she works with.

Smith stated that since the scholarship applications started at the end of February, her staff has received over 500 applications, and she understands why there is such a strong interest.

“It’s challenging to ask someone to attend a four-year college and then invest in a two-year graduate program…”Then come work for a community agency where you won’t make as much money,” Smith explained. And, while the program’s funding was one-time, Smith hopes to continue offering it in the future.

To learn more about the program, visit the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website.

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