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A Success for the State: An Interview with Darren Ramcharan, PMHNP-BC

Darran Ramcharan, from Hermiston, Oregon, found his place in healthcare while working as a nurse at Eastern Oregon Correctional Facility in Pendleton. He realized that many of the people who were incarcerated had mental health issues and grew passionate about their care. He enrolled at OHSU in their DNP Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) distance program and received a scholarship from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) through NEOAHEC. During this time, he and his wife had two children, both of whom were diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. He was unable to remain living rurally due to the healthcare requirements of his children, but the OHA continued to provide the scholarship. He completed his degree and is now working at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. Darren's role providing medication management along with psychotherapy to people who are incarcerated is a huge success, and NEOAHEC is proud to have played a small role in his story.

In 2020, after completing his second bachelor's degree (the first in Biology from Eastern Washington University and the second in Nursing from Concordia University), Darren applied for OHSU's Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program. A PMHNP is an advanced practice nurse qualified to diagnose and treat patients experiencing mental health challenges. OHSU, in partnership with NEOAHEC, offers this graduate-level program designed to prepare students to provide psychotherapy and psychopharmacology to patients of all ages in a wide variety of settings.

Once accepted into the PMHNP program, he received a postcard in the mail from NEOAHEC informing him of a new program that expanded the 3-year Doctor of Nursing PMHNP program from OHSU to a distance delivery model serving Eastern Oregon. As people in rural areas have increased difficulty obtaining education without moving away from their communities, this distance program allows students to complete almost their entire course load virtually. The program was part of the Healthy Oregon Workforce Training Opportunity (HOWTO) grant sponsored by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and NEOAHEC had received one million dollars for this effort. The scholarship that Darren received included tuition, a laptop, and additional funds for books and other costs, in addition to being able to do the program from Eastern Oregon and being able to stay at home with his two children. He graduated with a Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) degree in June 2023.

During this time, he and his wife were spending significant amounts of time on medical care for their children. They were living in Pendleton, and most appointments were referrals to Tri-Cities and Portland. They had no choice but to travel frequently. Ultimately, they couldn’t continue to make living rural work.

Initially, after relocating to Salem to be closer to health care options, Darren was concerned about his scholarship. He had committed to staying rural and to continue serving underserved communities, but due to his circumstances, he wasn’t able to do it. The OHA reached out to him and he received an email that they will continue to provide the scholarship. In the end, he found a way to keep part of his promise by continuing to work in the prison system.

As a Psych NP, his position includes psychotherapy and prescribing psychotropic medication to assist with ongoing symptoms or side effects. He also makes significant effort to use a therapeutic modality during each of his sessions, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mentalization, and promoting self-compassion and empowerment. He believes in taking this effort to ensure he spends time on skill-based learning rather than solely medication adjustments to provide holistic care. His take on providing care hopes to affect large changes though small choices over time. He finds forensic nursing particularly intriguing because it bridges a gap between the legal system and mental healthcare, a place where people frequently need care but have limited access to it. In addition, forensics has a unique population focus that is often overlooked and stigmatized.

His schedule for this position includes four ten-hour shifts, two of them being telehealth, though he is on call 24 hours a day. While he’s currently living in Salem for both family support and to be closer to healthcare, he sees himself moving towards a more rural setting in the future, even if that means commuting further to continue this vital work. Darren advised that students keep their options open when it comes to job location after choosing a career in healthcare—there are more options available than just in a hospital. Healthcare doesn’t need to be that high stress, working lots of hours, always busy lifestyle portrayed in media—there’s a space for being family oriented.

People like Darren are why NEOAHEC is committed to providing healthcare education resources to all students, regardless of their situation. Even though Darren’s pathway to becoming the health care professional he wanted to be didn’t lead him back to eastern Oregon, his success is a great example of his passion for caring for underserved communities and his connection to the ‘grow our own mission’ of NEOAHEC.