National Psychiatrist and Child Psychiatrist Shortage

In my previous life some two decades ago as a young Turk clinical teaching and supervising faculty of psychiatric and child psychiatric residents and fellows in training at Duke Medical Center, I became interested in “manpower” (the vernacular then) or more properly speaking practitioner distribution and training issues of psychiatrists. This was in the so called Golden Age of mental health practice, even though the service delivery system in all disciplines, had serious issues, I and many many others could see the troublesome issue of maldistribution of mental health care professionals that was emerging three decades ago and worsening  year by year. Basically what was evolving was a situation in which desirable places to live, urban areas with urban amenities such as the symphonies, ballet and performing arts companies, university centers, and above all many colleagues around for support and lively continuing education meetings of regional psychology, social work and psychiatry societies, kept graduates of advanced training programs in the regions in which they trained. So over time, it evolved that areas like Boston/Cambridge MA, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill NC (the Triangle Area), Ann Arbor MI, Dartmouth, New York City especially Manhattan, Stony Brooke, Long Island, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Eugene OR, San Diego, Davis CA, Charleston SC, Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, Albuquerque, Tucson AZ, and many other urban areas became the landing places where psychiatrists trained and often stayed to practice, in the university medical center cities. A good friend and colleague, now passed on Bruce Neeley MD of Duke and Emery, used to give lectures to residents nearing the penultimate stages of their training careers and were a year away from the decision of where to settle to practice. By then the 1980’s the trend had become set in concrete, only a minority of graduating psychiatrists left the training centers and set up practice in under-served areas.

Bruce Neeley and I separately in turn would give almost off the records seminars to the ‘senior residents,’ telling them in so many words, almost like the famous newspaper editor of the 1800’s, “Go West Young Psychiatrist,” In North Carolina we first meant go literally to western North Carolina which I knew very well because of my wife’s origin from Cherokee NC. But we also meant “get out of the urban centers, there are too many of us here already.”

WNC then and sadly still is vastly under-served by psychiatry with a chronic shortage that is almost criminal. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of child psychiatrists in practice west of Asheville and that is a lot of territory. I used to tell senior residents to “Get out of the RTP [Research Triangle Park, another term used to denote the entire Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area since each of those cities incredibly are only 8 to 15 miles from each other!

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