The Psychiatry Blueprint to Retaining Diverse Trainees, Treating Disparity

The modern psychiatrist may play many roles, including as a mentor and a facilitator to social-based support.

The sentiments of diversifying the health care workforce and making US medicine more equitable are far easier said than done—but it doesn’t mean there aren’t clear first steps.

In the second segment of an interview with HCPLive during the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2022 Annual Meeting in New Orleans this week, Rachel Talley, MD, director of the Fellowship in Community Psychiatry at University of Pennsylvania, discussed the strategies that would support recruiting and retaining more diverse pscyhiatric care trainees in any institution.

“It’s very early work from the standpoint of a formal research-evidence base, but what I’ve experienced on the ground in terms of what trainees of color are often looking for as far as feeling more welcomed…common things I hear are safe space to connect with others like themselves, then of course concentrated, very intentional mentorship,” Talley said.

Talley also shared perspective from trainees from minority backgrounds who have expressed that not only do they value representation among their ranks—but representation at the leadership level and higher. Much of Talley’s work at Pennsylvania has involved her serving as not only an informal mentor for trainees with minority backgrounds—but in encouraging colleagues with a non-minority background to provide their own support to diverse trainees.

On the subject of seeking and retaining patients with mental illness who come from minority backgrounds, Talley had a less positive outlook. “The briefest answer is that we’re not doing a good enough job,” she said.

Talley stressed the importance of she and her peers in psychiatry to improve in “identifying service connectors” for disparately impacted patients, noting that it’s still within the jurisdiction of a mental health care provider to have adequate referrals to resources that may aide the social determinants of a patient’s mental health.

“The first thing I want to challenge myself to be more active about is advocacy—being savvy to what are the housing issues in your local jurisdiction, what are the issues around the income supports that folks can have, what are the resources in terms of food security, and how can we as clinicians use our relatively privileged position in society to speak to those issues?” Talley said.

And while the available resources and public access to them may differentiate by region, many practices and institutions can follow the similar blueprint of pursuing a diverse workforce.

“I think an important factor of this is, are we recruiting folks across disciplines who are of the communities that we are trying to serve?” Talley said.