Virtual Mentorship Network to Address the Rural Shortage of Mental Health Providers

Heidi Keeler, Tara Sjuts, Kosuke Niitsu, Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Paul Force Emery Mackie, Howard Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Introduction: The process of identifying effective responses to the challenges of placing and retaining a rural behavioral health workforce remains elusive. The Virtual Mentorship Network was developed to test the feasibility of using distance technology to connect rural students interested in mental health careers with mentors. Methods: In Year 1, college and high school students were virtually mentored using a near-peer approach both live and asynchronously as a cohort over 7 months. In Year 2, college students only were virtually intensely mentored live over 1 month. High school students were asynchronously provided with informational videos produced by mentors. Program benefits were measured using the Mentoring Functions Questionnaire, and an activity satisfaction survey captured student response to the content and delivery methods. Retrospective analysis of Years 1 and 2 mentoring and satisfaction variables mean differences was performed and overall feasibility assessed. Results: Mentoring Functions Questionnaire scores, overall interaction, and reported satisfaction significantly improved in Year 2 over Year 1. Conclusions: These data suggest that distance mentoring is a feasible option, but that the near-peer benefits of virtually mentoring high school and college students together are overshadowed by different mentoring needs expressed for each group. High school students expressed needs for basic information about career possibilities, whereas college student needs are specific to achieving career goals. Shorter mentoring sessions may be more sustainable long-term and focus limited mentoring resources. This project may serve as a professional pipeline model for others who face a critical shortage of mental health providers. Supplement information: This article is part of a supplement entitled The Behavioral Health Workforce: Planning, Practice, and Preparation, which is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S290-S295
JournalAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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