Psychiatrists are the third most requested physician.

A national physician recruiting firm says the demand for psychiatrists is climbing faster than for any other medical specialty.From April 2009 to March 2010, the company Merritt Hawkins received 179 requests for psychiatrists — a 47% increase from the previous year and 121% increase from the 2006-2007 survey.


The firm, which tracked more than 2,800 physician requests, found that psychiatrists were the third-most-requested physician. Family practice doctors were the most requested, followed by internists, but the number of requests for both those specialties decreased from the previous year.

Though demand is growing, fewer medical students are entering careers in psychiatry. Health officials say the field garners little interest because psychiatrists earn less than other specialties, even though they spend the same amount of time in medical training.

Shankar Yalamanchili, a psychiatrist with River Region Psychiatry in Montgomery, Ala., says doctors who perform medical procedures make more money than psychiatrists who converse with patients.

“I get paid more for treating a zit than I get for sitting down for half an hour talking to a patient,” he says.

The number of students who have gone into psychiatry in the past five years has actually increased slightly, but more students are entering medical fields such as dermatology and radiology, says Steven Schlozman, co-director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“The number of students who have shown interest in psychiatry and matriculated in the field has gone up, but overall, it doesn’t hold a candle to other fields that are really taking students right now,” Schlozman says.

Kurt Mosley, Merritt Hawkins’ vice president of strategic services, says it’s “the perfect storm right now” as more than half of all psychiatrists age 55 and older are nearing retirement, and there aren’t enough physicians to take their spots.

The lack of psychiatrists in Iowa has been so bad that several hospitals have had to close their inpatient psychiatric care units, says Scott Lindsley, operations director for Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Yet demand for general psychiatry is expected to increase 19% from 1995 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Health Professions. The need for child psychiatric services is projected to increase 100% during that same time.

With medical students seeking alternate careers, the psychiatrist shortage is going to cause problems for the large number of patients in need of mental health services.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 26% of Americans 18 and over — or one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Mental disorders are also the No. 1 cause of disabilities in the USA and Canada.

Many veterans and their families are seeking services because of the stresses of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the recession has spurred a lot of people to reach out for help, says Laurence Miller, medical director for the Division of Behavioral Health Services at the Arkansas State Hospital and chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Public and Community Psychiatry.

Unemployed people are “more stressed, more depressed and more anxious,” and they’re looking for treatment, Miller says. Mental health problems are also less stigmatized than in the past.

Via USA Today