Abstract: Design and Initial Outcomes of an Interprofessional Opioid Training Program for Graduate Students in Social Work and Nursing (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

564P Design and Initial Outcomes of an Interprofessional Opioid Training Program for Graduate Students in Social Work and Nursing

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Colleen Fisher, PhD, Associate Professor & MSW Program Director, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
Susanne Fogger, DNP, CRNP, PMHNP-BC, CARN-AP, FAANP, Professor, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
Mary Jacque Carroll, MSW, Assistant Professor & Director of Field Education, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
Chris Walker, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Birmingham, AL

The opioid epidemic continues to be a major public health crisis in the U.S. Social workers and other behavioral health professionals with the expertise to provide prevention, treatment, and recovery services for opioid use disorders (OUD) remain urgently needed—particularly in Southern states with large rural populations, a high percentage of medically underserved communities, and a long history of racial disparities in health and healthcare. In response to this critical healthcare gap, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has prioritized efforts to build workforce capacity by supporting development of innovative university-led interprofessional training programs focused on treatment of opioid and other substance use disorders. Thus, an innovative HRSA-funded traineeship program was launched in 2019 to prepare graduate students in social work and nursing to assess and treat opioid use disorders (OUD) with an emphasis on medically underserved communities in the Deep South.


The program was designed and implemented collaboratively by an interdisciplinary team with oversight from a community advisory board made up of OUD experts. The yearlong traineeship experience included specialized coursework on evidenced-based practice in addictions, interprofessional telemedicine and simulation training, and multi-semester field practica in substance use treatment settings. Surveys were administered to student trainees at baseline and training completion to assess students’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills related to OUD and interprofessional practice more broadly. Key program outcomes from the first two trainee cohorts were analyzed using paired t-Tests and Wilcoxon Signed-Rank tests.


The sample was predominantly female (97.1%) and White (60%) and included students from the Master of Social Work (54.3%), Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (40%), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (5.7%) programs. Trainees reported relatively little previous OUD training at baseline: 37% had some previous coursework, 31% received an OUD training at work, and 17% participated in a continuing education training. Rates of personal exposure to OUDs were higher, however, including the student’s personal experience with OUD (9%) or experience through a friend (40%), family member (54%), social settings (31%), or some other type of exposure (26%). At graduation, trainees reported significantly greater confidence in their ability to diagnose OUD (Z=-3.24, p=.001), treat OUD (Z=-3.21, p=.001), utilize interprofessional assessment approaches (Z=-3.18, p=.002), and use interprofessional collaboration to better engage clients (Z=-3.06, p=.002) as well as greater understanding of social workers’/nurses’ roles (Z=-3.19, p=.001) compared to baseline.


Findings suggest that a year-long interprofessional training program can help prepare graduate-level social work and nursing students to collaboratively serve clients with OUD and other substance use disorders in medically underserved communities. While this study has limitations, including its small sample size and geographic focus which may limit generalizability to other regions of the U.S., this study represents an important step toward addressing behavioral health workforce gaps and addressing the opioid crisis. Application and testing of this promising training model at other institutions, in other geographic areas, and across the behavioral health professions would offer further insights for clinical practice.