Many Psychiatrists Wouldn’t Choose Medicine Again -- Growing Frustration, Shrinking Net Pay Create 'Silent Shortage' of Psychiatrists

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Reflecting the frustrations of modern medical practice, a full quarter of psychiatrists responding to a 2005 survey conducted by physician recruiting firm LocumTenens.com said they would not choose medicine if they could decide their career paths all over again. When compared to locum tenens industry studies asking the same question of physicians across a range of specialties, LocumTenens.com’s 2005 figure represents an increase of 20% since 1997.

Reimbursement is a huge problem in the mental health field—one that has forced changes in the way psychiatry is practiced

Reflecting the frustrations of modern medical practice, a full quarter of psychiatrists responding to a 2005 survey conducted by physician recruiting firm LocumTenens.com said they would not choose medicine if they could decide their career paths all over again. When compared to locum tenens industry studies asking the same question of physicians across a range of specialties, LocumTenens.com’s 2005 figure represents an increase of 20% since 1997.

Frustrating Issues

“The current state of U.S. healthcare has benefited physician recruitment firms increasingly over the past several years,” LocumTenens.com Executive Vice President Michael Davis said. “Trends like higher insurance costs and more aggressive third-party payers have pushed physicians into a corner that more and more of them want to get out of.”

Davis suggested this trend has helped 10-year-old LocumTenens.com increase revenue by 600% over the last five years (2000 to 2005).

“Reimbursement is a huge problem in the mental health field—one that has forced changes in the way psychiatry is practiced,” Davis said. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Office of Research, a psychiatrist can earn approximately 57% more money from three, 20-minute medication management visits than from a one-hour outpatient psychotherapy visit. This results in psychiatrists seeing more patients each week and spending less time with each. This trend was among the data presented at the APA’s 2004 annual meeting which concluded that psychiatric workforce trends are leading to healthcare access problems.

Silent Shortage

In fact, a “silent shortage” of psychiatrists has been growing in the United States over the past decade or so. The AMA reports that the supply of U.S. psychiatrists shrank 27 percent between 1990 and 2002. Meanwhile, physician staffing industry data indicate that demand increased by 16 percent in a shorter time frame (1997-2001).

At the same time, the aging of the psychiatrist population is decreasing access: Almost half (46%) of the more than 40,000 U.S. psychiatrists are 55 years or older, compared to approximately 35% of all U.S. physicians, according to the AMA.

Meanwhile, demand is increasing. The U.S. Bureau of Health Professions projects that between 1995 and 2020 demand for psychiatrists will increase by 100% for child and adolescent psychiatrists and by 19% for generalists.

One encouraging sign: The American Association of Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) National Resident Matching Program reports increased interest in psychiatry residencies. “For the fourth consecutive year there has been an increase in the number of first-year positions offered and filled by U.S. medical school seniors,” according to an AAMC news release in March 2005.

In its Web-based survey LocumTenens.com polled roughly 2,000 psychiatrists. To view the complete survey, visit http://www.locumtenens.com/about/surveys.

Founded in 1995, LocumTenens.com is a full-service physician recruiting firm specializing in supplemental placement of anesthesiologists, radiologists, psychiatrists, surgeons and CRNAs (certified registered nurse anesthetists) with U.S. hospitals, medical groups and community health centers. LocumTenens.com is part of the Jackson Healthcare Solutions family of companies. To learn more, visit the company's web sites at http://www.locumtenens.com/ and http://www.crnajobs.com/.

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Billie Wickstrom
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