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Health Professions Schools Combine to Respond to Mental Health Crises in Idaho and Utah

April 10, 2023

Idaho ranks 49th in the United States for physicians per capita. For mental health care providers specifically, the entire state is considered a shortage area, or health care desert, as existing providers can meet only 25% of the current need. To the south, Utah faces a similar problem, with 99% of the state considered a shortage area. Both states are in the top 15 annually for highest suicide rates among both adults and youth. The University of Utah and Idaho State University , both schools with a distinct educational focus on health professions, are in a unique position to bring about positive change in the area of access to mental health providers in the region.

A collaboration between the schools has led to a full cohort of psychiatry resident physicians who are now working and training in both states. A celebration to commemorate the full cohort will be held Thursday, April 13 at the ISU Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello. Invited guests will enjoy lunch and presentations from both universities at 11:30 a.m. 

At 1:15 p.m., everyone is invited to attend the keynote session featuring Mark Rappaport, M.D., professor and chairman for the Department of Psychiatry at University of Utah and CEO of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI). Dr. Rapaport also serves as the second William H. and Edna D. Stimson Presidential Endowed Chair, University of Utah School of Medicine. The keynote session will be held in the Jensen Grand Concert Hall. 

The University of Utah’s Psychiatry Residency Rural Track’s mission is to train community centered psychiatrists who will play an integral role in the development of mental health programs and practices in rural or high need communities where they will be able to use their creativity and passion to develop and fill diverse roles as advocates, consultants and leaders in various mental health care settings.

“We are thrilled to have joined forces with the U of U to bring about this Idaho Rural Track in Psychiatry, says Rex Force, vice president for health sciences and senior vice provost for ISU. “Residents are already greatly impacting accessibility to mental health care providers by completing rotations at many institutions across SE Idaho who serve a variety of patient populations.”

Health care is different in both Utah and Idaho than many other states. Sprawling landscapes, rural and often rugged terrain mean much of Idaho and its citizens exist in health care deserts, where hospitals, pharmacies, and other health care providers can only be found hours away. 

“The addition of mental health care providers has led to increased care for patients in rural areas suffering from mental health crises, students at our universities, inmates incarcerated in the tribal jail, our deserving veterans, and many more,” Force said.  

Residents in the program spend the majority of their first two years in Salt Lake City, UT working alongside fellow residents in the Adult Psychiatry program focusing on mastering skills in general medicine as well as completing required inpatient and some subspecialty psychiatric rotations. Some rotations will be completed in Pocatello just a short drive to the north.

During years three and four, residents will transition to Pocatello, where they will continue to refine themselves as psychiatric specialists. During residents' third year they will primarily focus on outpatient training with the fourth year being dedicated to trainee-specific interests, passions and individualization. For many, the individualization of residency training and their location placement ultimately leads to the desire to stay and practice there. 

Force says that funding for the program came from a number of sources, including the Idaho State Legislature, Portneuf Medical Center, Health West, ISU and the Department of Veterans Affairs. By collaborating, these two schools, who lead the region in health professions education, have begun to greatly impact the state of mental health care and bring positive change to this health care sector.


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