Job Title: Assistant Chair, University of Alberta Department of Psychiatry
Why He’s Top 40: He’s working to increase the quantity and diversity of mental-health specialists in Edmonton
If someone tells Scott Phillips, “it’s always been this way,” he’ll tell them an anecdote about Broadway singer Ethel Merman that ends with a quote from actor Fernando Lamas: “That doesn’t mean you’re right, it means you’re old.” So, since joining the Department of Psychiatry as assistant chair in 2015, he’s gone beyond the typical duties of managing budgets. He’s changing the overall structure of mental-health education and treatment in Alberta.
“We all know people with mental-health issues, and I thought this was a really intriguing way to make a difference,” Phillips says.
Phillips wanted to address the shortage of specialized psychiatrists in Alberta in high-demand areas, including sleep disorders, eating disorders and gender dysphoria, where waitlists to see a psychiatrist are often years long. Since previous efforts to recruit doctors had failed, Phillips changed course and introduced fellowships to psychiatry programs at the U of A so most new graduates – 68 per cent of whom will stay in Edmonton – will have the opportunity to do specialized training.
Phillips also launched the Department of Psychiatry’s first Gender Health Program in February 2018, to reduce the wait time for the approximately 1,800 adults with gender dysphoria to get support from years to just months. The early success of this program is indicative to Phillips that, by making specialized treatments easily available, patients will no longer need to rely on uncertain referrals until they find professionals who can help them.
“I have trouble navigating some of these referral paths, let alone a patient suffering from a mental-health crisis,” Phillips says. “Having readily available specialists is better for the patient, better for the system.”
Phillips’s plans are still in progress, but he’s encouraged by the changes he’s seen so far. “The outcome has been more positive to the community than anything else I have achieved,” Phillips says. “Let’s start understanding people. Isn’t that the benefit to addressing mental health, taking time to understand people?”