UArizona College of Nursing Among First to Offer Autism Diagnosis Certificate Program

June 25, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. – Enabled by a grant from Arizona Complete Health, the University of Arizona College of Nursing has inaugurated an additional career track to prepare pediatric nurse practitioners, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners and general practice pediatricians to address the increasing health-care challenge of autism. The Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Certificate Program is one of the first programs of its kind in the nation.

Art depicting four kids showing signs of autism: a girl covering her ears due to auditory sensitivity, a boy passionately talking about his favorite subject (cats), a girl lining up objects and finger flicking, and a boy feeling confused. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia/MissLunaRose12)Nationwide, autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact, affects one of 59 children and one in 71 children in Arizona. Although autism can be diagnosed as early as 2 years of age, in Arizona, the median age of diagnosis by a community provider is about 5.

The ASD career track will help address the dearth of clinicians in Arizona empowered to make the diagnosis of autism.

“The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier it’s benefits,” said Gloanna Peek, PhD, RN, CPNP, ASD program coordinator and UArizona College of Nursing clinical associate professor. “One of the most important things about our program is that the academic component is online. We can recruit clinicians in rural communities that suffer from fewer services and greater need.”

Training more clinicians to address the rise in autism is pivotal because the disorder must be diagnosed prior to age 4 for families to receive full access to state services across the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In response, the program initially will seek to improve access to health-care services for children diagnosed with autism.

However, the major goal of the interdisciplinary program – which involves 12 credit hours over three semesters and 180 clinical hours and one graduate level didactic course per semester – is to prepare pediatric clinicians to diagnose and manage autism. The first cohort of six students, which will graduate in August 2020, includes five nurse practitioners and one pediatrician who began their coursework in August 2019.

Gloanna Peek, PhD, RN, CPNP, serves as coordinator for the new career track program.

Dr. Peek collaborated with Sydney Rice, MD, professor of pediatrics in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, and David Harvey, PhD, principal consultant, Vantage Point Behavioral Services, to design and implement the curriculum and the program. In addition to Arizona Complete Health leaders, Vantage Point Behavioral Services also has been instrumental in design and implementation of the new program.

UArizona College of Nursing Dean Ida M. “Ki” Moore, PhD, RN, FAAN, said, “This innovative program will prepare qualified practitioners to address the increasing health-care challenge of autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Peek and her team have developed an outstanding curriculum. I am also most grateful to Drs. Rice and Harvey for their mentorship, and to Arizona Complete Health for the financial support that allowed development of this program.”

“The average age of diagnosis of a child with autism in Arizona lags behind the national average by about one year,” said Scott Van Valkenburg, MD, Arizona Complete Health chief medical director. “Funding this program through the UArizona College of Nursing is critical to developing a pipeline of qualified health-care providers who can lower the age of diagnosis for this disorder. This will allow us to treatment sooner, which yields better outcomes and a greater quality of life for that individual.”

“Many kids that are not being diagnosed, which means they and their families are not receiving the necessary services,” Dr. Peek said. “The ASD certificate will improve access to care for patients and families.”

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NOTE: Photo available upon request.

About the University of Arizona College of Nursing
Established in 1957, the University of Arizona College of Nursing has been transforming nursing education, research and practice to help people build better futures for more than 60 years. Consistently ranked among the best programs in the nation, the college is strengthening health care’s largest workforce and the public’s most trusted profession through its undergraduate and graduate programs, offered online and on-campus in Tucson and Phoenix. Headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., where integrative health has been pioneered, the UA College of Nursing is home to the world’s only Integrative Nursing Faculty Fellowship. With key focal strengths in integrative health, cancer prevention and survivorship, and nursing informatics, the college has more than 7,000 alumni worldwide promoting health and wellness in their workplaces and communities. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).