Last year, when 22 state-paid doctoral interns in and around New York City were threatened with pink slips, APA and APAGS rallied psychologists and psychology students to protest. More than 3,200 emails and letters poured in to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office urging the state to honor its contracts with the interns and emphasizing the value of mental health care they provide in poor and underserved communities.
That advocacy was part of the reason the psychology interns kept their jobs.
"It was humbling to know that so many people did pay attention and that this did strike a nerve," says APAGS Assistant Director Eddy Ameen.
The response also humbled Silvia Fiammenghi, whose internship at Bronx Psychiatric Center was threatened. When the cuts were announced, her supervisors and colleagues scrambled to find a way for her to complete her required internship. Their efforts were backed by thousands of strangers.
"That really meant a lot," says Fiammenghi. "There was a sense that this wasn't fair, but that I wasn't going through it alone."
But she will, perhaps, be among the last psychology interns at Bronx Psychiatric, which cut its program because of funding problems. Two more of the "New York 22" sites also lost funding and are out of the 2013 match: Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens and Hudson River Regional Hospital in Rockland. The result? Eight fewer internships in a system that's struggling to meet psychology graduate students' demand.
"It's a big loss," says Fiammenghi, who provided inpatient care in a long-term unit and had two outpatient clients. "This has been in place for many years and it's a great program."
Those lost positions, compounded with the handful of other internships that disappear each year, make it harder for psychology graduate students to get the training they need, says APAGS Associate Executive Director Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD. Last year, about 22 percent of students who submitted rank order lists did not match to internships, and an additional 7 percent withdrew before the match. Over time, the internship shortage could reduce the quality of mental health care in the United States and indefinitely strand hundreds of would-be psychologists in higher education, he adds. "The loss of individual internship sites and positions is the other intern crisis we face every year," El-Ghoroury says.
So, while the New York 22 goes down as one of psychology's victories, the greater fight over securing enough internships for students continues. To help advocate for psychology and mental health training in the United States, visit the APA Legislative Action Center, and consider joining the APAGS Advocacy Coordinating Team, a group of graduate students who work to inform and mobilize other grad students.