Is the Psychiatrist Shortage Linked to Mental Health Needs?

You can’t turn on the television anymore without watching some news of suicides or shootings. It is clear that there is currently a severe mental health crisis in the U.S. This is not just speculation. According to a recent AAMC article, there is a higher demand for mental health treatment than there are trained professionals. In light of recent Match Day for U.S. medical students, I was curious to discover the numbers related to students entering Psychiatry as a specialty in medicine. However, according to Residency Match Results and Data report from 2017, psychiatry positions have grown every year since 2008, and the 1,495 positions offered in 2017 was the highest on record. The 99.7 position fill rate also was the highest ever. The number of positions filled by psychiatry residencies has increased by 34 percent. Is the psychiatrist shortage linked to mental health needs?

As a Psychology major in college and a long-time volunteer at Bellevue Hospital in NYC – renowned emergency psychiatric hospital – I have been curious about this field in medicine. Despite not choosing to pursue mental health further, I recognize it as an incredibly important area of medicine that has direct, positive impact on patients.

Due to my curiosity, I looked up the results of Match Day to see how many students chose Psychiatry as a profession. There were several highlights this year, chief among them is the unexpected rise in medical students interested in entering Psychiatry as a profession.  If you’ve been keeping up with the trends, you know that family medicine and psychiatry are usually the two least sought-after areas of interest.

For those who don’t know match day is a tradition for senior at U.S. allopathic medical schools around the world. Fourth year medical students discover that residency program where they will train for the next few years.

Despite the growing number, some fear that there is still a severe shortage of students interested in the field. The shortage may also be a result of psychiatry residents choosing to practice in underserved and impoverished areas. According to an article in Forbes, behavioral health facilities, hospitals, and addiction center are unable to hire psychiatrists.

The greatest need in psychiatry at the moment is geriatric, child/adolescent psychiatry.

Low insurance reimbursement rate for psychiatrists keep students from pursuing the specialty.  For those who are unfamiliar with medical specialties, procedure-oriented doctors tend to have a bigger payoff than those in fields like psychiatry.

AAMC reports that medical schools had have a big push to encourage psychiatry residencies, but more deliberate actions are required to get the doctors in the underserved communities to address the dire need.

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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.

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