The Grand Rapids-based Pine Rest plans to recruit nationwide for the program and hopes that residents will opt to remain in the area after completing their residency, helping to fill a worsening void.
“We think that by offering a great training opportunity and a chance to know us and the community, and by taking good care of the residents, they’ll be inclined to stick around,” said Mark Eastburg, president and CEO of Pine Rest.
Many doctors who complete a residency program in Michigan usually do stay in the state, according to an annual survey of licensed active physicians by the Michigan Department of Community Health. The 2011 physician survey found 63 percent of practicing physicians in the state served a residency in Michigan and 15 percent served a fellowship.
A California native, Eastburg himself came to Grand Rapids 22 years ago for a psychiatry internship at Pine Rest and decided to stay.
“Life was good,” he said of the decision. “We think that’s a story that can repeat itself.”
Pending accreditation, Pine Rest plans to launch a four-year psychiatry residency program in 2014. The program will offer eight positions annually for a total capacity of 32 slots. It will become the seventh psychiatry residency program in Michigan.
The initiative is the direct result of a shortage of psychiatrists, Eastburg said. Pine Rest itself is “always seeking” psychiatrists and could “easily” fill eight to 10 positions now if it had the talent available.
“It’s just hard to find psychiatrists that are interested in West Michigan,” Eastburg said.
The problem is statewide. In the 2011 physician survey by the Department of Community Health, psychiatry was again identified by doctors as a specialty where physicians had the greatest difficulty getting a timely referral for a patient. Nine percent of doctors said they had difficulty getting a referral for an adult patient and 6 percent indicated the same for a child or adolescent patient.
At Pine Rest, which has 16 outpatient clinics around West Michigan and treats about 36,000 patients annually, getting an outpatient appointment can take up to two months. In addition to its own clinics, Pine Rest has inpatient facilities and provides psychiatrists at hospitals across the region.
The American Psychiatric Association recommends one psychiatrist per 10,000 population, Eastburg said. West Michigan presently has one per 14,000 people, he said.
“If we don’t do anything, we’re going to be in a significantly worse situation,” Eastburg said.
Having another residency program in the state can potentially lure more medical students to select psychiatry as a specialty, said Marsha Rappley, dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
“When people are taking their education alongside people who are training in a specialty, they see opportunities for themselves,” Rappley said. “This will motivate them.”
In 2012, 3.5 percent of students at MSU’s College of Human Medicine were matched into a psychiatry residency program. The medical school graduates 200 students annually.