The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Psychiatrists in short supply nationwideRest of story
Lower pay, limited respect for specialty blamed for scarcity
March 16, 2014 12:00 AM
By Joe Smydo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Chandan Khandai, a fourth-year student at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will be on pins and needles until he finds out Monday whether he has landed one of the 1,300 or so psychiatric residencies opening up nationwide this fall.
Mr. Khandai's interest in psychiatry is fueled by developments in brain science and, he said, concern for a patient population often made to feel "like the kids who get picked last in the class to play kickball."
The profession needs him. Amid a growing demand for mental health services, the nation is wrestling with a chronic shortage of psychiatrists, who get less pay and respect than doctors in other specialties.
"We're short in a sort of really bad way," said Gary Swanson, president of the Pittsburgh Psychiatric Society and director of psychiatric residency at Allegheny General Hospital, noting patients in some areas wait two months or more to see a psychiatrist.
In Westmoreland County, Ray Grabowski, director of behavioral health for Excela Health, has spent 15 months seeking a psychiatrist for the health system. He has used two recruiting firms and sent his job notice to 16,000 doctors nationwide. He has offered the job to eight candidates; none accepted.
Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in America, yet medical students' interest in psychiatry is so low that nearly 14 percent of the 1,360 psychiatric residencies up for grabs last year went to non-U.S. citizens who graduated from foreign medical schools -- a higher percentage of foreign participation than in many specialties' residency programs.
A similar scenario could play out this year. Medical school seniors around the country will find out Monday whether they've been matched with residencies in their preferred fields. On Friday, they'll find out the names of the schools that want them.
The nation has about 46,000 psychiatrists, according to 2010 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. An estimated 2,600 more are needed to eliminate 3,900 federally designated "mental health professional shortage areas," including parts of Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. More than 7,000 psychiatrists specialize in treating children and adolescents, but the field could use thousands more, said Gregory Fritz, president-elect of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and professor at Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
Also in demand are "culturally literate" psychiatrists for minorities and those willing to work with prisoners, substance abusers and parolees with severe personality disorders or histories of sexual deviance ...
The skeptic is never for real. There he stands, cocktail in hand, left arm draped languorously on one end of the mantelpiece, telling you that he can't be sure of anything, not even of his own existence. I'll give you my secret method of demolishing universal skepticism in four words. Whisper to him: "Your fly is open." If he thinks knowledge is so all-fired impossible, why does he always look? — James Sire (from, The Universe Next Door)