Tuesday, May 3, 2022 | 2 a.m.
Demand for mental health and substance use treatment services was greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to increase. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, making in-person care harder to access and disrupting the traditional community support networks of thousands of people struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
Psychiatrists are doctors, and they go through medical school and residency. As a medical field in recent years, we’ve seen more residency slots than ever before, with fierce competition and high match rates among most medical specialties, psychiatry included. This year, more than 2,000 slots, the most in history, were offered for psychiatry, but it is not nearly enough.
We face a massive shortage of psychiatrists in America. We simply do not have enough slots to meet the demand for new psychiatrists, and to solve our mental health access problem if we continue at the current rate. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, the United States is facing a shortfall of up to 12,000 psychiatrists by 2030.
If we are to make meaningful progress in broadening access to mental health care and treatment for substance use disorders in this country, it is imperative that we lift current caps and increase the number of psychiatry match slots offered, and we need the federal funding to make this happen.
The great news is that there is a tremendous appetite among medical students to join our profession, especially from International Medical Graduates (IMGs). IMGs are an extremely competent and valuable group of physicians who often treat patients in rural and underserved communities. Their unique cultural heritage and perspectives can often be a great advantage when treating patients from minority and underrepresented groups.
While the greater number of slots being offered over the past two years means that more IMGs are being matched with programs in the United States, most often face an uphill battle to match with U.S. residency programs as they compete for slots with domestic graduates. Of the 2,030 psychiatry slots that were matched this year, just 388 went to IMGs. Despite these challenges, the contributions of IMGs make a huge effect on the communities they serve. We must make it easier for IMGs to compete for and match with American residency training slots.
More residency match slots would mean more opportunity for IMGs, more psychiatrists overall, and eventually, greater access to trained physicians for Americans in need of treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. We must make increasing the number of psychiatry match slots a priority as we work to address the incredible demand for mental health and substance use disorder services in our country.
The federal government included funding for 4,000 residency training slots by 2026, of which 600 would go to psychiatry. While each new slot is a step in the right direction, that won’t get us anywhere near the 12,000 needed just four years later. The simple fact is that we need bold action to overcome the looming shortage of trained psychiatrists: and the bottom line is that federal funding can make it happen.
Saul Levin is the CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.