Des Moines University.

A pilot project is being launched to fill a shortage of mental health professionals in Iowa.

The osteopathic medical school Des Moines University (DMU) will oversee the project, kickstarted by a $50,000 grant from the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation. The money will enable DMU to join with the National Alliance of Mental Illness to train future primary-care doctors in the treatment of psychiatric patients.

Lisa Streyfeller is chair of the Department of Behavioral Medicine at DMU. “What it’s really designed to do is decrease stigma among providers around mental illnesses, and increase their compassion and awareness for the experience of having psychiatric illness or the experience of having a loved one with a psychiatric illness,” Streyfeller said.

As many as 50 third-year students at DMU will get the training. Iowa ranks 48th in the nation in the number of psychiatrists per capita. Streyfeller believes this project will benefit patients in rural areas.

“It will be easier for those folks to access care, they’re more likely to follow-up, they’re more likely to establish a kind of connection for long-term care that leads to better functioning and better outcomes for those patients,” Streyfeller said.

Eighty-nine counties in Iowa are designated as shortage areas for mental health professionals.

(Thanks to Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio)