Feature

Changes ahead

For the past several years, about one-quarter of psychology graduate students who have gone through the internship match process have not secured an internship. Now, solutions are in place that APAGS hopes will boost match rates and improve the system.

Last year, APAGS, the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), APA's Education Directorate and five doctoral training councils each made at least one commitment to improve the internship shortage, along with one request to the other training councils. APAGS asked all groups to work toward a minimum education standard of completion of accredited training at the doctoral program and internship levels for entry into health service psychology.

The hope is that these changes, which would ultimately affect both graduate programs and internships, will streamline the system and benefit the field.

"From APAGS's perspective, this is a matter of ensuring quality for students and for the public," says Ali Mattu, PhD, APAGS's past chair. "We're moving toward health-care reform, and standards are going up. Employers, and the public, need to know that our training is up to par."

APPIC has already begun to address this goal: It is considering requiring currently non-accredited programs to gain accreditation or schedule a site visit by the end of 2017 in order for their students to participate in the 2018 Match. That means that students beginning to study in programs not accredited (or not in the process of being accredited) by APA or CPA (the Canadian Psychological Association) in January 2014 or later may be ineligible to participate in the match program in 2018. Until the end of 2017, there is no change in the match eligibility criteria, and what happens after that is still not finalized.

"APPIC is concerned about students who could possibly have difficulties both if their program does not go for accreditation or if they have internal quality problems that prevent them from obtaining accreditation," says APPIC's executive director Jeff Baker, PhD. "However, APPIC appreciates the system and believes accreditation is a fair means of assessing quality. It is a standard that is used in all other health professions and has universal meaning to the public."

Students who are currently in non-accredited doctoral programs, however, will still be able to participate in the match. APAGS leaders recognize that if APPIC takes this action it will have a direct impact on current and future students at non-accredited doctoral programs. "We hope that this is an opportunity for students to advocate within their doctoral program to encourage them to achieve accreditation," says Eddy Ameen, PhD, APAGS assistant director.

There are also changes afoot to streamline the process internship programs must go through to gain accreditation. For one, programs will be able to function as accredited while completing the accreditation requirements, rather than waiting until all phases are complete.

"All of this will help create new internships and newly accredited ones, which will shift us away from the old two-tiered model," says Mattu.

Another important change is in the works: APAGS has committed to educate applicants to psychology graduate programs about how the programs stack up in such key areas as the number of students accepted, the attrition rate, internship match rates and more. Such information is publicly available but can be difficult for applicants to find and interpret, according to Nabil Hassan El-Ghoroury, PhD, associate executive director of APAGS. He hopes that, armed with better information, students will be able to make more informed decisions about programs before committing.

"If your program has a 10 percent match rate, know that," he emphasizes. "And know that if you take an unaccredited internship, you many never work at a VA in the future."

APAGS also asked the graduate councils to call for graduate programs to provide financial support for unmatched students who find themselves in school for another year — and accruing the associated costs.

"Financial support could take a lot of different forms," says Catherine Grus, PhD, deputy executive director of APA's Education Directorate, including allowing an extra year of funding through teaching assistantships, reducing tuition and keeping students registered full time to keep loans in remission.

"Schools might allow an extra year of funding through teaching assistantships or reduce the amount of tuition an individual has to pay," she says.

Ultimately, such transitions should benefit the match system and the field itself, says Mattu.

"There will be some growing pains and consequences," he says. "But all of the changes that are happening are going to affect far more than our generation of psychologists and their students; it's going to change the next 30, 40, 50 years of what we do. We have to do what's right for the field and for our patients."

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a writer in New York City.

For more information on APA's new resolution on accreditation, see the October issue of the Monitor.

Stats on the internship mismatch

This year, of the 4,481 students who registered for the match:

  • 2,506 (56 percent) matched to an accredited position (compared with 2,363, or 53 percent, last year).
  • 820 (18 percent) matched to a non-accredited position (compared with 789, or 18 percent, last year).
  • 1,155 (26 percent) did not match to a position — that number includes unmatched and withdrawn applicants. Again, that is slightly better than last year when 1,283, or 29 percent, did not match to a position.

For the full data set, go to APPIC Match Statistics.