Should psychologists be able to prescribe?

From today’s Boston Globe comes a story detailing the controversy about allowing psychologists (non-MD’s) to presribe medication. The state of Louisiana recently passed a law allowing this to happen. Here are some excerpts detailing the arguments on both sides:

. . . [the] president of the American Psychiatric Association, calls the Louisiana law ”really scary,” saying undertrained nonphysicians will harm, and perhaps kill, patients. ”Without a doubt, they’ll make mistakes,” . . .

. . . Louisiana psychologists would have to pass a 400-hour psychopharmacology program to prescribe.

. . . Psychologists argue that granting prescription privileges will alleviate shortages of psychiatrists. In some rural states, including Louisiana, patients who might need medication wait months to see a psychiatrist.

. . . But critics say medical psychologist programs are a drop in the bucket compared with the training doctors must undergo . . . the psychologists’ 400-hour curriculum would cover only five weeks of the typical 80-hours-a-week medical school residency.

. . . Psychiatrists also say that many of these programs depend heavily on distance learning, in which students learn by computer and meet through chat rooms.

. . . Proponents say the Louisiana law includes an effective safeguard against error: Before prescribing a drug, the psychologists must consult with a physician, who can veto the prescription if it seems unnecessary or incorrect.

My bottom-line take: there should be no way that psychologists be able to prescribe. People go to medical school for a reason – a quickie 400-hour course does not replace a medical school education nor a psychiatry residency. It would be akin to going to a dentist and having the hygienist perform the tooth extraction. Patients deserve better. If psychologists want to prescribe, go to medical school. Period.

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