A Pilot Project to Prepare More Mental Health Professionals

Dec 15, 2017

The osteopathic medical school Des Moines University is using grant money to launch a pilot project to address a shortage in Iowa of mental health professionals. It’s designed to train future primary-care doctors in treating psychiatric illness.

Lisa Streyffeler, Chair of the Department of Behavioral Medicine, Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Des Moines University
Credit Des Moines University

Iowa ranks 48th in the nation in the number of psychiatrists per capita. This means most psychiatric treatment in the state is being delivered by primary-care doctors. DMU will begin working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness on a program to make general practitioners more familiar with mental health issues. The chair of the Department of Behavioral Medicine, Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Des Moines U., Lisa Streyffeler, says this will benefit patients in rural areas.

“It will be easier for those folks to access care, they’re more likely to follow-up, they’re more likely to establish a kind of connection for long-term care that leads to better functioning and better outcomes for those patients,” she says.

As many as 50 third-year students at DMU will study on campus in Des Moines beginning in June. A full class of 220 students will complete the training by the end of 2018.

Eighty-nine counties in Iowa are designated as shortage areas for mental health professionals. Streyffeler says the project will familiarize more general practitioners with mental health issues.

“What it’s really designed to do is decrease stigma among providers around mental illnesses, and increase their compassion and awareness for the experience of having psychiatric illness or the experience of having a loved one with a psychiatric illness,” she says.

The Mid-Iowa Health Foundation is giving $50,000 to help start the project.