Demand for Psychiatrists: Steady Now, 'Acute' Later

By Silverman, Jennifer | Clinical Psychiatry News, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Demand for Psychiatrists: Steady Now, 'Acute' Later


Silverman, Jennifer, Clinical Psychiatry News


The growing demand for psychiatry jobs points to a looming shortage in the profession, Merritt, Hawkins & Associates reported in its 2005 study on recruitment trends.

The number of search assignments for psychiatry rose from 54 in 2003-2004 to 80 assignments in 2004-2005. That steady increase underscores a possible "silent shortage" of mental health professionals, the national recruiting firm reported. "It's easy to sweep psychiatric patients under the rug because they aren't dying on the street of heart attacks or other physical problems," said Jim Merritt, the firm's president, in a statement. "There is a huge need for psychiatric services that is going unfilled."

The report marks the 12th annual physician recruiting review by MHA. For its 2005 report, the firm reviewed 2,687 physician searches from April 1, 2004, to March 31, 2005.

The growing number of psychiatry searches is just one sign of an emerging shortage, Mr. Merritt said. He observed that there are more than 1,000 federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas for psychiatry in the United States--meaning that more than 62 million patients may not be getting the psychiatric services they need. In addition, more psychiatrists are reaching retirement age; about 30% of all physicians are 55 or older, and 46% of psychiatrists are in that age group, Mr. Merritt said.

Some state-supported institutions, such as correctional facilities, have virtually given up on recruiting permanent psychiatrists and rely instead on locum tenens physicians to fill gaps in staff, he said. "We project that psychiatrists will become increasingly difficult to recruit and that the need for additional psychiatrists will become acute in the next 5-10 years."

"It's hard to know what the results of a search firm may mean," said Sidney Weissman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of psychiatry residency training at Northwestern University in Chicago. But he suspects that a shortage may in fact exist in certain markets.

"What these results highlight is a shortage--particularly in child and general psychiatry in less-populated areas," he said. Most psychiatrists want to stay in urban areas, because that's where the residencies, contacts, and jobs are located, he observed.

"Because we have a shortage, it is critical for psychiatrists to work with primary care doctors to ensure a competent, medically trained corps of providers who can deal with psychiatric medications," he said.

In results for other specialties, MHA reported that many health care employers are turning their attention back to primary care.

The number of searches for general internists increased from 124 in 2003-2004 to 188 in 2004-2005, after a significant decline in the early 2000s, when searches dropped from 152 in 2001-2002 to 113 in 2002-2003. …

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