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195 total students trained since 2014.
50 students currently being trained in the 2020/2021 academic year.


What is UNC-PrimeCare?

UNC-PrimeCare is a specialized training program available to Master of Social Work (MSW) and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The UNC-PrimeCare program is an exceptional opportunity for students interested in integrated behavioral health care with rural and underserved groups, and in the treatment of opioid use and other substance use disorders.

Traditional, health care services address the mind and body as separate and therefore service delivery has been fractured and siloed. However, increasing evidence shows that when it comes to an individual’s health, the behavioral health (inclusive of mental health and substance use) and physical health needs are inseparable. This growing recognition of the need for a holistic approach to health care led to new and renewed efforts to integrate behavioral health care with primary care services. These efforts have shown that integrated health care is the most effective approach to caring for patients of all ages and all types of health care needs.

Integrated health care has become the gold standard of patient care and treatment because this model of care responds to

  • changes in health care delivery prescribed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010;
  • the rising costs of U.S. health care;
  • a shift in emphasis from acute care to a focus on wellness and preventive care;
  • unacceptable rates of poor health care outcomes in the United States, especially as compared with other countries;
  • the potential for improving health outcomes at individual and population health levels; and
  • increased awareness of the social determinants of health and the ways these factors affect individuals’ health and well-being.

Integrated care combines primary or specialty care and behavioral health care in one setting, such as a primary care clinic. Integrating the various dimensions of patient care involves primary or specialty care medical providers and behavioral health providers working together in a comprehensive, systematic way to coordinate care and services to meet a broad range of patient needs in one setting. Integrated care focuses on delivering evidenced-based treatment and evidence-informed care to maximize optimal outcomes for patients.

Integrated Behavioral HealthcareBoth patients and health care providers benefit from integrated care. Integrated care in the 21st century faces the challenge of meeting 4 primary aims: [1]

  • improve patient care,
  • reduce medical costs,
  • increase patients’ satisfaction with their care, and

increase providers’ satisfaction with their ability to care for patients.

[1] Institute for Health Care Improvement.

In addition to required and elective courses, final-year MSW and PMHNP students accepted to UNC-PrimeCare receive specialized training through supplemental courses, seminars, and workshops. This training is designed to enhance students’ knowledge of behavioral health care and increase their skills in using assessments, treatments and interventions appropriate for integrated settings. UNC-PrimeCare students complete their field/internship requirements at a placement that allows them to learn about integrated care service delivery with enhanced behavioral health services. All UNC-PrimeCare field placements allow students the opportunity to work as members of interprofessional health care teams, treating rural and underserved groups, and opioid use and other substance use disorders.

Given the supplemental trainings UNC-PrimeCare students are required to participate in, students receive a generous stipend over the course of the academic year, funded by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA).


Students participate in UNC-PrimeCare during the final year of their MSW or PMHNP program. Applications to UNC-PrimeCare must be completed before students’ final year in their program of study. Applications are reviewed by a committee, and top applicants are awarded an opportunity to become UNC-PrimeCare trainees. The application form, instructions, and program details can be found here.

Program History

The UNC-PrimeCare program was established in 2014 through a $1.4 million dollar federal grant from HRSA, awarded to Dr. Lisa Zerden, UNC School of Social Work. The initial goal of the program was to prepare the behavioral health workforce for the changing landscape of health care.[1] This initial grant focused on training MSW students to work with adolescents and emerging adults. From 2014–2018, UNC-PrimeCare trained 95 MSW students, and contributed to the expansion of the behavioral health workforce.

Following the success of the first grant, in 2017, a second HRSA grant of $1.92 million was awarded in partnership with the UNC School of Nursing to train MSW and PMHNP students. By 2022, this phase of the UNC-PrimeCare program will train an additional 116 MSW and PMHNP students to deliver behavioral health care across the lifespan, focusing on health care for rural and underserved populations.

In 2019, Dr. Zerden was awarded an additional $1.35 million from HRSA to train MSW students with specialized skills needed to treat people with opioid and other substance use disorders. This grant, modeled after the successful workforce training established by earlier iterations of UNC-PrimeCare, is called UNC-PrimeCare-OUD. From 2019-2022, UNC-PrimeCare-OUD will train an additional 81 MSW students in integrated care focused on treatment for opioid and other substance use disorders. READ MORE

[1] UNC-PrimeCare is funded by HRSA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) program. HRSA is the primary federal agency tasked with improving access to health care for our nation’s most vulnerable populations. BHWET works to increase and strengthen the health workforce, especially in the nation’s underserved communities.

For more information, please contact:

Meryl Kanfer, MSW, LCSW
Field Placement Development Coordinator
UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work
325 Pittsboro St.  CB#3550
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3550
mkanfer at