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Cedars-Sinai Funds Psychiatry Fellowship for Primary Care Providers

Family physicians play a crucial role in mental healthcare, but many lack the specific training needed to help their patients. Cedars-Sinai aims to close that gap by funding a new yearlong psychiatry fellowship.

Through a $650,000 grant, 30 Los Angeles-based primary care safety-net providers are taking part in the program, known as UC Irvine/UC Davis Train New Trainers Primary Care Psychiatry Fellowship. The Cedars-Sinai funded Los Angeles group is the largest to participate in the fellowship.

"Over a third of patients have a diagnosable mental health disorders, and primary care physicians have an important opportunity to intervene," said Itai Danovitch, MD, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences. “Most people are surprised to hear how frequently mental healthcare is provided by primary care physicians. This training program seeks to strengthen the ability of physicians to provide effective firstline treatments for common problems, and to know when to refer patients out for specialty mental healthcare.”

The aim of the fellowship is to help healthcare workers better recognize, diagnose and treat mental health issues in the primary care setting. Twenty eight of the 30 providers work at Los Angeles community clinics that treat medically underserved patients. These clinics are part of the Cedars-Sinai Community Clinic Initiative, which provides grants and programs aimed at strengthening the leadership and effectiveness of community partners.

"There is a huge gap in the field of primary care psychiatry," said Erin Ward, senior program officer of the Cedars-Sinai Community Benefit Giving Office. "Primary care providers have little formal training in psychiatry and are often uncomfortable or inexperienced in managing and treating mental health issues. Through this fellowship, we hope to narrow that gap."

As part of the fellowship, members receive clinical education, training and one-on-one mentorship from behavioral health experts. The yearlong program involves two national conferences, webinars and personal coaching. The next large, full-program conference will be in August, hosted at Cedars-Sinai. In addition, the Los Angeles team will participate in additional trainings beyond the formal fellowship period on specific topics relevant to the needs of the local community, such as treating opioid use.

At the culmination of the program participants should be able to demonstrate increased confidence and knowledge in completing psychiatric assessments, treating common conditions and referring to mental health specialists. Most importantly, the trainees should be able to teach what they've learned to their primary care colleagues in an ongoing effort to improve mental healthcare needs in the community.

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