WSU Tri-Cities student honored for dedication to rural mental healthcare

By Lacey Desserault

Mental healthcare is a growing priority for many Washington residents. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered a great need for mental health professionals across the United States, with many rural areas lacking access to professionals completely.

Derek Greenwood, Doctor of Nursing Practice student at WSU Tri-Cities.

Hailing from the small town of Centerville, Washington with a population of 101, Derek Greenwood, a Washington State University Tri-Cities student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program, has a dedication to serving rural communities through healthcare. 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.

“My 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 mores, concerns, and lifestyles and lack an understanding of the rural, Native American, or migrant farmworker populations that live here.”

As someone recovering from substance abuse and mental health issues, Greenwood is familiar with the growing concerns of access to psychiatric care in rural communities.

“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.”

Greenwood was recently awarded a prestigious scholarship for his efforts in the psychiatric mental health nursing field. The Lois Spratlen Foundation Scholarship recognizes psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner students in the state of Washington who show leadership and skill and are dedicated to serving their communities. The scholarship is awarded to just a handful of students who show their commitment to their local populations and are making a positive difference.

Aside from monetary assistance toward education, the 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. “Because rural providers often feel isolated and without ready in-person consultation partners, it is essential to maintain membership in professional associations and attend conferences. Even more than the monetary award, the generous offer of inclusion in the association and related events is invaluable.”

Greenwood credits his advisor, Bevan Briggs, academic director of the WSU Tri-Cities College of Nursing, for personally connecting with him in choosing where to study and encouraging Greenwood to apply for the prestigious 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 has a passion for serving rural communities and wants to remain in eastern Washington for work.

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 the cohorts of students 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. 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 said.

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.

Learn more about the nursing program at WSU Tri-Cities.