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Twenty-four percent of the psychology doctoral students who participated in the match this year — or 937 students — did not match with an internship in the first round, according to results released Feb. 25 by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. That number of unmatched students is the highest ever, say observers, who once again say that the number of students who want internships continues to outpace the supply of them in the match process.

In addition, 352 students who initially registered for the match withdrew from Phase I of the process, either for personal reasons or because they weren’t contacted by internship centers for interviews.

Not matching to an internship can delay the progression of a student’s training for another year since doctoral students must complete a year of supervised clinical training before they graduate. It can also weigh a student down emotionally and financially, says American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Chair Susan Wilson. It’s financially tough because students returning for another year might not be able to get continued funding from their programs and may need to take on additional student loans, she says. Emotionally, not matching strikes a blow against a student’s confidence and self-esteem, and can be especially devastating and embarrassing if most of a student’s peers in his or her program were matched, she says.

“It can be just very challenging to overcome this feeling of ‘I’m not good enough,’” Wilson says.

Many students who didn’t match, or who initially registered for the process but then withdrew, sought internships during Phase II of the match. Almost 1,300 unplaced students were eligible to compete for 256 positions left unfilled from Phase I. Unmatched students had until March 3 to apply for the unfilled positions. At Monitor press time, Phase II match results were expected to be released on March 28.

The continuing imbalance of psychology internships is unacceptable for both psychology doctoral students and the perceived integrity of psychology’s education and training system, says Cynthia Belar, PhD, executive director of APA’s Education Directorate.

“We can’t hide our heads in the sand; there’s a problem here. People are getting hurt, and we don’t look so good,” Belar says.

APA has been working to solve the problem for years. In 2008, the association hosted leaders from psychology training councils and APAGS to develop a plan to reduce the imbalance. One result of that collaboration was the psychology internship development toolkit, which helps programs start internships or add positions. The groups also have been encouraging psychology students to carefully examine a program’s internship placement rates before enrolling, says Belar, adding that APA accreditation requires each doctoral program to post its placement rates on its public website.

Some observers complain that some doctoral programs are accepting too many students. APA does not have the authority to limit enrollment in doctoral programs, says Belar. In addition, while an APA-accredited doctoral program must ensure quality internship training for each student, it does not have to guarantee that each student will get an APA-accredited internship.

Belar also cautions that a two-tiered system of internships might be emerging, with some students training in the top tier of APA-accredited internships, and other students going to second-tier internships created by doctoral programs scrambling to find training opportunities for students. “I am especially concerned because the mismatch of the number of intern applicants to available openings leads to increased pressure on doctoral programs to approve as internships those experiences that have not been peer reviewed for quality purposes,” she says.

Other options to reduce the imbalance would require systemic changes to the current training model, Belar says. One possibility is revising the goal of a doctoral program to prepare students to start an internship, rather than for entry to practice. Given that students wishing to pursue a research career may not want a clinical internship, entry to practice would then be controlled through an accredited postdoctoral internship. Another possible change could be requiring accredited doctoral programs to provide a quality internship program for every student accepted. “Psychology needs an integrated system of education and training with a strong quality assurance mechanism, in order to maintain public confidence in our preparation of professional psychologists,” she says.

In 2008, training councils also agreed that psychology doctoral programs that consistently had a high percentage of unmatched students would support the creation of more quality internships or reduce the number of students in their programs, says APPIC Chair Sharon Berry, PhD.

“We need to make that a reality,” she says.

—C. Munsey

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