APRN Scholars Program at Almost Home Kids

“There is a silent crisis in the United States due to the extreme shortage of specialists who care for children with medical complexity (CMC) specifically, and Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP) and mental health in general.  We are developing an innovative program to address this crucial workforce issue” 
Peter J. Smith, MD, MA, Almost Home Kids Chief Medical Director

Graduate AHK Scholars Zoe Lasky, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC, Bertia Jennings, DNP, PPCNP, PMHS, BC and Elizabeth Limberakis, MSN, APRN, PCNP-PC (photo pre-COVID-19 pandemic)

Their Futures Depend on What You Do Today

Almost Home Kids (AHK), an affiliate of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital enrolling the next cohort of fellows into the Scholars Program in Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP), Mental Health (MH) and Complex Care (CC) for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses.

Nationally there are more than 3 million children with special healthcare needs and growing at 5% annually, they are among the most rapidly growing subgroups of the pediatric population. In Illinois alone, there are currently 14,000 children who are medically complex. Advances in medicine and technology are allowing children who are medically complex to live longer lives which results in an increased need for supportive services from medical the community.

Parents and providers report that families face 9-12-month delays to see a subspecialist in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP) for diagnosis and treatment interventions and the same is true for children and adolescents waiting to see a psychiatrist for mental health services. Mental Health care needs for children and adolescents have increased tremendously over the past year as they and their families deal with the pandemic and the many struggles and uncertainties it has caused families. Children with complex care needs are forced to be hospitalized longer than necessary, putting these children at higher risk for poor health outcomes due to limited availability of providers comfortable caring for them.

Recognizing the need to increase the core group of medical professionals competently trained to care for these children, AHK is providing a fellowship program with a goal of educating Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN’s) in the subspecialties of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Mental Health, and Complex Care.

With advanced training, APRN’s will be better able to diagnose, manage, co-manage, and refer as needed, children for developmental disabilities (including cerebral palsy, autism, and learning disabilities), medical complexities (including epilepsy, genetic abnormalities, neurological impairment, feeding and respiratory problems), and behavioral issues (including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and incontinence).

Here’s What You Can Expect

The APRN scholar will participate in an intensive one-year, 50 week, two days, 15-20 hours per week, training program partnering with the University of Chicago’s Fellowship Program in Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, University of Illinois at Chicago’s LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders), the Ohio State KySS (Keep Your Child Safe and Secure) online Mental Health Fellowship, ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) training at Advocate Illinois Masonic Developmental Center, Advocate Children’s Hospital, DuPage Easter Seals, Erikson Institute, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC).

Distance Learners will participate in all didactic courses and will need to coordinate with local organizations to arrange additional clinical experiences, to be approved by program faculty. Program faculty include Anita D. Berry MSN, CNP, APN, PMHS, APRN Scholars Program Director and Peter J. Smith MD. MA, Chief Medical Director.

Scholar Eligibility

A successful candidate for the Post Graduate Scholars Program in DBP, MH, and Complex Care must have a minimum of 2 years of primary care or acute care or 1-year outpatient DBP or primary care clinical practice, be licensed as a registered nurse and Advance Practice Nurse in their state of practice or received their APRN license by the time they begin the program.

APRN Scholars Application Instructions

For consideration, please submit the following as one PDF attachment by May 21, 2021 at 6pm CST to: anberry@luriechildrens.org

  • Resume/CVNP Certification/transcripts
  • Copy of RN/APRN license
  • A statement of interest that should be up to 1000 words and explain how the program fits into your career goals and your commitment to serve these population.
  • Three reference letters-two from former supervisors.

Cost sharing of $500 is required (due by the August 5th start date). Scholars are responsible for their own malpractice insurance. All other costs are covered by Almost Home Kids.

Qualified candidates will be contacted for an interview and notified by May 31st if they have been accepted.

The program will begin on August 5, 2021. Almost Home Kids will accept up to 6 scholars in this cohort.

Scholars will receive a certificate of completion from Almost Home Kids as well as certifications for training in ADOS-2 Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Second Edition, KySS Mental Health Training Program, and LEND Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program.

Scholars will not receive any compensation for participating in this program and must secure professional liability insurance with limits of at least $1,000,000 per occurrence, $3,000,000 aggregate to participate in clinical rotation at AHK, Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Advocate Aurora sites (Christ Medical Center, Illinois Masonic Medical Center & Lutheran General), DuPage Easter Seals, DSCC, and Erikson Institute.

Applicants belonging to underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply. Almost Home Kids is committed to fostering and promoting a culture of diversity in the nursing workforce. We are inviting Top Talent from all communities to come join us! Apply today!

Our Team

Anita Berry MSN, CNP, APN, PMHS
AHK Manager APRN Fellowship Program

Click here for Ms. Berry’s CV

Anita Berry has dedicated her career to pediatric nursing, working in several leading hospitals and outpatient facilities as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Currently Anita Directs the APRN Scholars Program in Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Mental Health and Complex Care. Prior to this role she worked at Advocate Children’s Hospital as the Director of the Healthy Steps for Young Children Program, where she educated providers and staff in primary care practices, Federally Qualified Health Centers, residency and nurse practitioner programs throughout the state of Illinois, on child development and mental health.

Anita is an accomplished lecturer and teacher having received several awards for her dedication to the families and the community, most recently including the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) 2016 Kelly Reed Advance Practice Community Impact Award for Excellence in the Community and Beyond, and Children’s Hospital of Illinois 2016 Robert D. Hart, M.D. Endowed Lectureship Speaker. Anita has served as editor for Pediatric Nurse Practitioner primary care textbooks, published in numerous peer reviewed journals, and has spoken professionally at multiple conferences.

Anita enjoys spending time with her husband Mark, her five grown children and their spouses, and her ten young grandchildren. Her education and career experiences are driven by her passion to help parents and children be the best they can be.

Peter J. Smith, MD, MA
AHK Chief Medical Director

Click here for Dr. Smith’s CV

The medical director for AHK Chicago is Peter J. Smith. Dr. Smith is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Dr. Smith is also a faculty member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. Dr. Smith attended the University of Notre Dame for his undergraduate degree, Duke University for Medical School, and completed his Masters in Theology (Ethics) at Boston College.  He completed his general pediatrics residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (Washington University) and two fellowships at Boston Children’s Hospital (Harvard).  He is board certified in two subspecialties of pediatrics, Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NDD) and Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP).

Dr. Smith’s direct clinical service has included inpatient care (he is former Chief of the Medical Staff at La Rabida Children’s Hospital), work in residential schools (he is Medical Director both at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School and at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education), and outpatient clinics (currently at Comer Children’s Hospital, the Erikson Institute, and at Easter Seals of DuPage and Fox Valley).  Both families and colleagues respect him as a hard-working and passionate advocate for children with complex medical needs.

Within the region, Dr. Smith has held several leadership positions.  He has served on multiple Committees of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) related to children with complex medical concerns, and he chaired one of these committees, the Committee on Children with Disabilities.  He has previously served as Medical Director for the Child and Family Connections team in DuPage County (CFC#5).

Nationally, Dr. Smith has been elected as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (SODBP) for the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, he has served on the Executive Committee for the Council on Children with Disabilities (COCWD) for the national AAP (as a liaison from the SODBP).  He also previously served on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and is involved in developing national standards for the healthcare of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Dr. Smith is also a teacher and scholar. As a teacher, he has many roles. In one of these roles, he started and directed the first training program in the Midwest for pediatricians who want to become experts in the care of children with developmental and behavioral difficulties (a Fellowship in DBP).   He has also developed the medical education program (for medical students, residents, and fellows) at Almost Home Kids.  Dr. Smith’s scholarship has focused upon the ethics of care for children with special needs as well as the training of doctors to care for children with medical complexity.  He has authored multiple articles in scientific journals as well as several chapters in the textbooks used by specialists in this field. Dr. Smith is a frequent presenter at local, regional, and national scientific meetings as well as at formal educational programs for doctors.

Most importantly, Dr. Smith is a husband, father to four wonderful children, sibling to five brothers and one sister, and son to parents that taught & inspired him to serve others, especially children.

Career Benefits to Scholars

The DBP-APN Advanced Training Program will provide the scholar with varied clinical and educational opportunities to prepare them for autonomous practice. Upon completing this program, APRNs will have the depth, breadth, volume, and intensity of foundational knowledge coupled with appropriate clinical experience to independently manage children with the conditions served by DBP clinicians. Graduates of this APRN Advanced Training Program will be well positioned to be thought leaders in the field.

APRN Nurse Practitioners Post Graduate Scholars Program Curriculum

Scholars will participate in case-based discussions and journal club. The scholar will be provided opportunities for the following during the Advanced Training Program:

  • understand the complex developmental processes of infants, children, adolescents and young adults, in the context of their families and communities
  • understand the biological, psychological, and social influences on development in the emotional, social, motor, language, and cognitive domains
  • understand the mechanisms for primary and secondary prevention of disorders in behavior and development
  • analyze pathophysiology for various disease processes
    develop diagnoses, formulate treatment plans and evaluate patient response to treatment
  • utilize evidence-based practices in delivering quality, cost-effective care
  • educate patients and families about disease process and prevention
    develop organizational skills vital to effectively managing patient caseloads
  • develop effective communication and presentation skills essential to work with an interdisciplinary team
  • develop an age-appropriate treatment plan for mental health problems based on biopsychosocial theories, evidenced-based standards of care, and practice guidelines, including differential diagnosis for mental health problems.
  • demonstrate behaviors that reflect a commitment to continuous professional development, ethical practice, an understanding and sensitivity to diversity and a responsible attitude toward patients, profession and society
  • evaluate the relationships among access, cost, quality, and safety and their influence on health care
  • demonstrate critical thinking and diagnostic reasoning skills in clinical decision making
  • understand the care of children with complex needs including those who are ventilator dependent, have tracheostomies, require suctioning, and receive nutritional support via of a feeding system

Current Scholars

Michelle Appelbaum, PhD, FNP, PNP, PMHS
“Participating in this program greatly adds to my knowledge about developmental disabilities, mental health problems and children with complex medical concerns. The content is varied and presented in interesting ways that enhance clinical practice. I look forward to the sessions and highly recommend this in-depth program.”

Heather Momberg, DNP, PNP

“To obtain further education in developmental-behavioral pediatrics and mental health is a unique opportunity and will be incredibly valuable to my practice within the Indian Health Service network.”


Hillary Mueller, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, PMHS

“I am thankful for the privilege to be a part of the APRN Scholars program. The program provides timely and informative education to fill a critical knowledge gap. During the program, we have the ability to ask experts in the field questions and have those answered in real time. The program is comprehensive and interdisciplinary. This has introduced me to public policy, advocacy opportunities, and available resources I was not previously aware existed. I am excited about the future ability to apply my new knowledge to improve the lives of the children and families in my community.”

Emily Schadt, DNP, CPNP, PMHS

“I am so excited to be a part of this wonderful program! Nursing education is always evolving, and I think this program will help me better provide for my patients by ensuring I stay up to date on the most relevant information available. Even though I just started the ARPN Scholars program, I have already gained a wealth of knowledge that I can implement in my current practice. I am excited to learn more over the next year. Thank you for the opportunity to further assist in my professional growth.”

APRN Scholars – 2020 Graduates

Bertia Jennings, DNP, PPCNP, PMHS, BC
I took this journey to increase my knowledge and understanding of children with special health care needs. I was excited, intrigued and honored to have been a scholar in this program. I gained a wealth of knowledge and established new relationships that lend support to my professional development and practice.


I was honored to have been chosen to participate in this program. Not only did this program provide me with increased knowledge that empowered me to provide greater and more holistic care to my current patient population but also has enabled me to become a greater asset to caring for children during a time where there is such an extreme shortage of specialists who are educated and able to manage care of patients with complex healthcare needs. What excited me most about this scholar’s program, is that “the sky is the limit,” and my eyes are opened to so many new and exciting opportunities.


Elizabeth Limberakis, MSN, APRN, PCNP-PC
I was thrilled to be able to learn more about how to manage the mental health and behavioral issues that so many of my patients struggle with. Additionally, I’m able to utilize my new knowledge to better assist all children and families with special health care needs.