Bringing Psychiatric Care to the Permian Basin

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During the last several years, Midland/Odessa patients seeking psychiatric services have learned there is generally a months-long waiting period to see a practitioner. To help break through this logjam, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) at the Permian Basin recently made history by approving the first psychiatry residency training program. Under this program, young doctors for the first time will be trained right here in the Permian Basin to become psychiatrists. 

According to the latest data, Texas spends $75 or less per capita to meet the mental health needs of its citizens, which ranks the state 36th nationally. To look at this problem from another angle, Texas ranks sixth in the nation in the number of citizens who live with the effects of mental illness, with almost 17 percent—or more than 3 million Texans—having received a significant mental illness diagnosis. In addition, more than 3 percent of Texans have verbalized suicidal ideations, which means the highest proportion of citizens who have such thoughts are within our state’s borders.

As these statistics point out, there is much need across the state for quality psychiatric care, and unfortunately, West Texas lags behind the rest of the Lone Star State in available mental health care resources. TTUHSC at the Permian Basin’s psychiatry residency program seeks to change this as quickly as possible.

Besides training qualified psychiatrists, those of us working in the TTUHSC at the Permian Basin Department of Psychiatry aspire to bring quality psychiatric treatment modalities. With this in mind, we have already recruited three trained and licensed practitioners to the area, including two Ph.D. level psychologists who have many years of clinical experience in treating chronic mental health conditions. TTUHSC at the Permian Basin is also using technology to reach out to the more remote areas of the state by expanding its use of telepsychiatry, which employs computers and the internet to develop very realistic psychiatric care relationships between patients and practitioners who are physically separated by long distances. In fact, we already use this technology to see psychiatric patients admitted for medical reasons to Medical Center Hospital and Midland Memorial Hospital and we are initiating a similar telepsychiatry psychiatry clinic connecting our behavioral health speciatlists with schools across ECISD and MISD.

In the early stages of the psychiatry residency program, we expect to train young practitioners in other psychiatry sub-specialities like addiction psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry. As the program evolves we aspire to include other subspecialties like psychosomatic psychiatry, which deals with psychiatric issues in the medically sick, and forensic psychiatry, which pertains to psychiatric issues in legal matters. Another important goal is to train community-based psychiatrists who have the skills to work in an integrated fashion with primary care providers and providers of other specialized health care services. The program will also focus on developing leadership, teamwork, and a strong commitment to providing quality health care to the underserved.

In the near term, the TTUHSC at the Permian Basin’s new residency training program can benefit our area by bringing in the aforementioned psychiatrists who are trained and ready to treat patients. Down the road, this program can increase the likelihood that more psychiatrists will train in the Permian Basin and then remain in West Texas to serve our communities. However, to ultimately succeed, the program will require more support, financial and otherwise, so we can attract young doctors and core faculty to our area. For that, the TTUHSC at the Permian Basin Psychiatry Residency Program will count on the generous nature of our fellow West Texans.

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