Shortage of psychologists in the public network: a record of vacancies

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Shortage of psychologists in the public network: a record number of vacancies

The recruitment of psychologists is increasingly more difficult and the exodus of professionals to the private sector is accelerating. According to several professionals, the trend is not about to be reversed, quite the contrary.

It is mandatory to have a doctorate to practice as a psychologist. (Archives)

“The current situation is exceptional,” sighs the head of the psychology department at Sainte-Justine Hospital, Dr. Carole Lane.

In his establishment, one in three psychologist positions are vacant (32%). Unheard of, says the psychologist, who has never experienced such a shortage of staff in 33 years of presence in this pediatric hospital.

By her own admission, she sometimes walks on a balancing act to meet the growing demand for mental health care.

“Currently, I have sectors that are at high risk of being exposed, therefore of being out of service. »

— Carole Lane, Head of the Psychology Department at Sainte-Justine Hospital

The lack of relief has persisted for several months. The first signs, she says, appeared a little before the pandemic.

According to his analysis, this situation is primarily due to recruitment difficulties.

Fewer applications, more postings, more difficulties in retaining interns and contract workers: in a few years, once highly coveted positions no longer attract crowds.

According to data compiled by Radio-Canada, recruitment difficulties are a reality almost everywhere in the public health network, even if some sectors are doing better than others. 'others.

At the CISSS de la Côte-Nord, for example, 44% of positions are vacant (12 out of a total of 27).

At the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île de Montréal, 20% of positions are vacant (24 out of 123).

Nearly 10% of positions are vacant in the CIUSSS de la Mauricie (5 out of 44) and the Capitale-Nationale (29 out of 267).

At the Montreal Children's Hospital, all permanent positions for psychologists have an incumbent, but 24% of temporary positions remain to be filled.

Psychologists shun the public sector. This is shown by data collected by the Coalition of Psychologists of the Quebec Public Network.

Between 2011 and 2021, 719 professionals have decided to devote themselves exclusively to private practice, including many directly upon graduation. During the same period, the public network permanently lost 367 psychologists.

In her 31-year career at the Montreal Children's Hospital, Dr. Maria Sufrategui has seen the situation deteriorate. This psychologist and neuropsychologist retired a few months ago.

When she left, she had had time to observe a gradual change. Coveted and prestigious permanent positions, such as the one she obtained with difficulty and misery, are today shunned by the new generations.

Why? Because the work is more and more difficult, the cases more stressful, much more demanding, but the remuneration does not follow, she laments.

Maria Sufrategui is concerned about the lack of psychologists in the public health network.

An observation shared by Dr. David Smolak, a psychologist who himself slammed the door of the Charles-Le Moyne hospital in Longueuil, in 2021.

He supervises doctoral students in psychology from the University of Montreal and notices that the public network suffers from a bad reputation among the next generation.

According to a report by the Ministry of Health published in 2018, barely 25% of newly graduated psychologists choose the public network.

Dr. Smolak lists the reasons given by his students: uncompetitive salaries, a great lack of flexibility, a lot of constraints. And finally, he says, they see their exhausted colleagues leave the ship, which completes their discouragement.

Karine Gauthier estimates that the number of psychologists in the public network has decreased by 14% in the last ten years.

Irritants repeatedly expressed by the Coalition of Psychologists of the Quebec Public Network, which makes the salary issue a priority.

In a brief published last September, the Coalition claims that professionals in the private sector earn 44% more than their colleagues in the public sector. A gap that tends to widen over the years.

Currently, we are blocked, we are at an impasse, slice the president of the Coalition, Karine Gauthier. She states that the number of psychologists in the public network has decreased by 14% in the last 10 years.

She calls for a law that would allow psychologists in the public network to create their own union. Currently, they do not have the ability to negotiate directly with the government.

Public psychologists must stay in line, their salary increases are linked to those of other health professionals. The same goes for their working conditions.

We are the only ones who have compulsory doctoral studies, protests Ms. Gauthier, while emphasizing that the average income of Quebec psychiatrists is three times higher than that of psychologists, so that they have a similar number of years of education.

During the election campaign, François Legault admitted that the salary of public psychologists should be more competitive.

Last week, unions representing public sector health workers called for an emergency meeting with five influential ministers, including the health minister.

Their objective, they say, is to discuss solutions to eliminate wage discrimination and improve the working conditions of psychologists. A first, because so far the union common front has tried not to dwell on particular cases.

In their press release, the unions evoke the critical situation of the lack of psychologists, in connection with their remuneration.

According to Karine Gauthier, there is an urgency to act because the network public is forced to abandon certain services. And above all to abandon many patients, who now have to turn to the private sector, even if they do not always have the means to pay.

A reality which, she says, concerns in particular the care of children and adolescents.

She cites as an example young suicidal people who presented to the emergency room and who had to wait several months to access a service.

Sometimes they have time to make an attempt or two before being seen by a psychologist , indignant Ms. Gauthier. Sometimes, there is no psychologist in the CLSCs.

Dr. Maria Sufrategui reminds us that psychologists in the public network are now focusing on cases deemed the most serious. .

Not so long ago, she argues, the public cared for children with learning difficulties, those who showed signs of giftedness or again those who had attention problems. All these people no longer have access to the hospital, she concludes.

In Quebec, more than 20,000 people are currently waiting for mental health services.

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