GRAND RAPIDS — In forming a new psychiatry residency program, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services aims to provide a potential long-term local fix to a talent shortage that’s expected to worsen if left unaddressed.
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 that often has patients waiting for treatment.
“We think that by offering a great training opportunity and a chance to (get 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 will only deepen as psychiatrists in the baby boomer generation retire and there’s not enough new talent coming into the profession, Eastburg said.
The problem is both national and statewide. In the 2011 physician survey by the Department of Community Health, psychiatry was again identified by doctors as a specialty where they 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. “It’s only going to get worse.”
The creation of eight new residency slots in the state with Pine Rest’s program “could be a great help to us,” said Marsha Rappley, dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
“It may not sound like a lot to most people, but this is a great contribution,” Rappley said.
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.
Having another residency program in the state also can potentially lure more medical students to select psychiatry as a specialty, Rappley said.
“When people are taking their education alongside people who are training in a specialty, they see opportunities for themselves,” she said. “This will motivate them.”
Nationwide, the number of medical students choosing psychiatry as a specialty has been on the decline for six years, according to the American Psychiatry Association.
In West Michigan, the demand for psychiatrists is projected to grow more than 10 percent in a 10-year period from 2008-2018 in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties, according to an annual outlook from Grand Valley State University.