West Virginia University’s Rural Track in the psychiatry residency program has received Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accreditation, making it one of only four programs in the country to receive the distinction.
The residency launched to expand its capacity for treating psychiatric patients in North Central West Virginia, and leaders say having the accreditation could result in better access to trained physicians in rural communities.
The ACGME is the accrediting body for all graduate medical training programs for physicians in the United States. The residency program is made possible, in part, by ACGME’s Medically Underserved Areas/Populations Program policy changes and resources surrounding Health Services and Resources Administration programs.
West Virginia leads the nation in overdose rates and has the 8th highest rate of suicide in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Fifty of West Virginia’s 55 counties are deemed mental health shortage areas by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The program, which began recruiting in 2021, places residents primarily in Harrison County, which is identified as Health Professional Shortage Area, or HPSA.
The rural residency training track uses a combination of in-person and telehealth/telepsychiatry treatment modalities to connect residents with their patients. Luke Stover, M.D, psychiatry resident and West Virginia-native, said the program is a good step towards helping with a “severe shortage” of psychiatry providers.
He said that some patients wait up to a year to find a therapist, and often times their medications are managed by a primary care provider.
“By the time a patient makes it to an appointment with us, they have likely been dealing with their issue for years,” Dr. Stover said. “Finding the right care for the patient can take time, meaning that even once they reach a psychiatrist, we still need to develop a plan that will accommodate our patients so that they can easily follow up. It’s patient-focused treatment that addresses medical and social issues so that they can see continued progress.”
Dr. Daniel Elswick, M.D., Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry vice chair for education and psychiatry residency director, said one of the most significant lessons trainees learn on these rotations is a reminder of the many of their patients' barriers to care.
“It doesn’t look far on a map when you’re looking at travel from these areas to Morgantown; it’s maybe a thirty-mile trip,” Dr. Elswick, who is a professor in the department, said. “But when talking about gas money or transportation costs for someone on a limited income, those 30 miles can feel insurmountable. This patient-focused program teaches compassion, empathy and creative ways to get people the care they need.”
“Being from rural West Virginia, I’m familiar with the challenges and barrier patients face, and I have had to learn how to address these barriers from a provider's perspective,” Stover said. “Our residency program allows us to make positive progress for our patients.”
For more information on the WVU School of Medicine, visit medicine.wvu.edu. For information on Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry residency programs, visit medicine.hsc.wvu.edu/bmed/residents.