State Leadership Conference

The time is ripe for psychologists to establish themselves as primary-care providers, said presenters at the 2009 State Leadership Conference. Positions at federally qualified health centers provide a particularly good opportunity for primary-care practitioners, as such programs are increasingly well-funded, thanks to the influx of $300 million from the economic stimulus package, said Nina G. Levitt, EdD, associate executive director of APA's Education Government Relations Office.

To encourage collaboration between state psychological associations and state primary-care associations, APA developed its Primary Care Association Initiative to increase the number of psychologists and psychology students working in the roughly 7,000 federally qualified health centers nationwide.

These centers bring health care to underserved populations, explained Jill Oliveira Gray, PhD, president-elect of the Hawaii Psychological Association, but they often fall short of meeting their communities' demands for services due to severe provider shortages and other access-to-care barriers. For example, in 2005, 70 percent of patients at Hawaiian community health centers sought mental health services, and only 11 percent received them.

To address that disparity, Gray is working with the Hawaii Primary Care Association, as well as Ola Lahui Rural Behavioral Health Training Program, to create positions for psychologists and interns in the state's community health centers. In addition to providing short-term therapy, these psychologists consult with physicians about psychotropic medication and help patients manage chronic diseases, said Gray.

Because psychologists can offer a wide range of clinical and research skills, "it doesn't take long for us to show what our value is," she said.

Other psychologists are also making inroads in their state community health centers. Gilbert Newman, PhD, of the California Psychological Association, reported on his work with the California Primary Care Association to create training opportunities at several community health centers, experiences that give psychologists "crucial, on-the-ground experience—especially those with psychopharmacological training," he said.

As an added benefit, psychologists in community health centers showcase the breadth of skills and services that the profession has to offer—including the ability to supervise, evaluate programs and conduct research, Newman said.

"I'm asking my students to not only be great therapists, but to be great clinical leaders," he said.

—S. Dingfelder