A new program starting in June 2024 will train psychiatric residents in southeastern North Carolina, treating both civilian and military patients.
The initiative, in which Novant Health will work with UNC Health, UNC School of Medicine and Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, will create a new psychiatric residency program and increase the number of much-needed mental health physicians in the pipeline, according to an announcement from Novant on Monday.
An initial class of seven psychiatric residents will begin the four-year program in June 2024. Participants will include both military and civilian physicians, who will conduct clinical rotations at both Novant Health New Hanover Medical Center in Wilmington and Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.
“The partnership ensures the psychiatric residents will have training opportunities caring for a variety of patients, including individuals serving in the military, providing firsthand experiences treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury,” the news release stated.
Despite a growing acknowledgement by the public and by advocacy groups of a national mental health crisis affecting both adults and young people, there remains a “staggering” shortage of psychiatrists nationwide, the release continued. The opioid epidemic and mental health issues caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to the disparity between the availability of and demand for services.
“Boosting the numbers of psychiatrists and other trained mental health providers is key to turning the tide on these challenges,” said Samuel Pullen, a psychiatrist and system physician executive for Novant Health's Psychiatry & Mental Health Institute, in the release. “We must increase the numbers of mental health providers so that we can ensure timely access to care is available in all communities we serve.”
The release cited a study last year by Mental Health America
that evaluated access to mental health care nationwide and ranked North Carolina, along with other Southern states, in the bottom third. Rural areas, in particular, “struggle with reduced numbers of mental health providers and services,” the release stated. Because psychiatrists are physicians who have a medical degree and advanced training in mental health disorders and substance use disorders, they can be well-positioned to understand the relationship between the physical and mental aspects of a patient’s illness.
“We know untreated mental illness leads to multiple bad outcomes, ranging from reduced quality of life and problems at work and home to substance use, overdoses, homelessness, imprisonment and suicide," said Julia Triggs in the release. She is a Wilmington-based psychiatrist with Novant Health who has helped lead planning efforts for the residency.
In Wilmington, Novant Health already operates medical residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and general surgery. The new psychiatric residency isn’t the only new program aimed at medical shortages in southeastern North Carolina: July 2024 will also see the launch of a new rural track of Novant Health’s family medicine residency program, according to the release. UNC School of Medicine, Novant Heath Pender Medical Center and Black River Health Services are partners in that effort.