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A Canadian first: Unique fellowship in integrated healthcare awarded to an NP

Dec 12, 2017
Guylaine Spencer

Shannon Wright

Shannon Wright, who graduated from the Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner program at McMaster last year, started a prestigious one-year fellowship with the Medical Psychiatry Alliance this September. She is the first Nurse Practitioner to hold the award. 

Dr. Nancy Carter is the Assistant Dean, Graduate Nursing Programs. “This is wonderful news for Shannon,” says Carter. “We know that there is a crisis in mental health in our province and utilizing highly skilled Nurse Practitioners to support patients and families is a great opportunity. This fellowship will allow her to increase her expertise in mental health.” 

Wright was thrilled to be selected for the fellowship. “I couldn’t have imagined a better way to start my career as a Nurse Practitioner. It’s been a great transition,” she says. “My experience as a nurse has always been in mental health and addictions, so this really appeals to me. When I graduated from the NP program, my goal was to work with this population. I gave myself a bit of time to find something with a mental health or addiction focus and then this came up. I felt it was perfect timing, the perfect opportunity.” 

The Medical Psychiatry Alliance

The Medical Psychiatry Alliance (MPA) is a collaborative partnership whose goal is to transform mental health care. “In Ontario, approximately 1.3 million patients suffer from both physical and mental health illnesses,” says Wright. “In most cases, their treatment fails because of the way our health system is designed. Typically it’s designed to focus on physical health or mental health but not both at the same time. So as a result, physical symptoms with a mental health origin go unaddressed.

The MPA is the first alliance of its kind in Canada. It’s supported by CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Trillium Health Partners, and the University of Toronto, and they work with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and an extraordinarily generous donor who provided funding. They’re dedicated to transforming how we deliver mental health care services for patients with physical and psychiatric illness or medically unexplained symptoms.”


One of MPA’s key goals is educating health care professionals. “There are clinical fellowships for physicians and NPs, and research fellowships for a range of health care providers. The goal is to train new graduates or those already in practice to improve delivery of integrated physical and mental health within the health care system. I’m the first NP fellow they’ve had. That is really exciting because we’re essentially designing the program for NPs as I go through it.”

Wright’s fellowship so far 

Wright describes the fellowship as similar to a residency. She’ll be working at most of the sites affiliated with the MPA. “I started with two weeks of internal medicine at Toronto General Hospital,” she says. “Currently I’m at Toronto Western Hospital on the consultation-liaison psychiatry team.” In 2018, she’ll be at Trillium Health Partners and then CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). From June to September, she’ll have an elective. “I can choose where I want to go.” She spends one day a week on academic learning.

One thing she has noticed so far is that “the care is very complex. I’ve had so many amazing learning experiences! I’ve had incredible mentors. People are embracing the role of the NP.” 

What’s next? 

After the fellowship ends, Wright will be looking for work as an NP. “My passion is providing medical care for clients who live with serious mental illness, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These patients live 20 years less than the general population. Their care is very fractured. A Nurse Practitioner is uniquely qualified to manage the care of these patients,” says Wright.

Her dream would be working with an ACT team. “That’s where I would love to end up,” she says. ACT stands for Assertive Community Treatment. “They are multidisciplinary teams that include a psychiatrist, a nurse, and professionals in social work, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, and a peer support worker. I think an NP could provide the primary care for these patients, with a focus on prevention and consistent care. It isn’t really a role that exists currently in the health care system, but I can see how that could improve the long-term outcome of patients’ lives.”

As for other NPs who might be interested in following in her footsteps with the fellowship, Wright recommends it highly. “It’s a great opportunity, and I can’t say enough about it.”

To find out more about the MPA, visit


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