Local residency program addressing psychiatrist shortage

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Joe Herrera - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - There's one psychiatrist per 10,000 patients.

It's a nationwide ratio that shows how dire the need is for more psychiatric doctors across the country.

In Texas, there are 171 counties that don't have any psychiatrists.

One in five Americans struggles with mental health issues every day. One in 20 have serious mental health issues.

Dr. Jason Miller, DO psychiatrist, said this is why there is a great need for psychiatrists across the country.

“Across the country, over 60% of psychiatrists are greater than the age of 55,” Miller said. “Between now and 2030, we are looking at half of our workforce retiring.”

He said that in previous years, medical students who were interested in studying the brain would go into different fields, not psychiatry.

“You might hear things like, 'Why would you want to be a psychiatrist? Why wouldn't you want to be a neurologist? Why wouldn't you want to be a neurosurgeon?'” Miller said.

Miller said fortunately, there has been a renewed interest in the field, but now it's a matter of playing catch up. And it's a problem we're facing locally.

“As our population grows, our rate of psychiatric care and our rate of mental health care just can't keep up,” Miller said.

Miller said the typical waiting time to see a psychiatrist in Bexar County is about a six-week minimum.

In order to address the need, Southwest General Hospital has partnered with the University of Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine to create a residency program to bring more psychiatrists to San Antonio.

The program, which starts in July, will have eight residents in its first year. That number will grow to 12 in each class, with the goal of having 48 practicing psychiatrists in the South Side of San Antonio in the next four years.

“They are not only going to be trained here, but they are going to work here throughout and they will be associated with clinics on the South Side of town,” Miller said.

He said even with new programs, such as the local residency program, starting won't help the problem overnight. It will take time.

“It's literally going to take decades for them to catch up, if they ever will,” Miller said.

Miller said in the future, as more psychiatrist retire, he believes more psychiatric nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be seeing patients needing mental health help.

The new residents will receive their white coats at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, June 28, and the program starts July 1.

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