SCS Director Responds to Article on Long Wait Times

By David Albert

I would like to take this opportunity to correct and clarify several items in the article “Long Waits for Students Seeking Mental Health Care from Student Counseling Services” (1/27/17).

The University of Chicago is fortunate to have a well-staffed Student Counseling Service (SCS), which sees students quickly and without a wait list. Although the Maroon story cites one case with a long wait due to scheduling difficulties, that is not at all typical. Routine intake (initial) appointments are offered within five business days, often sooner. Students who cannot wait to be seen are encouraged to walk-in for an emergency appointment. Students experiencing acute psychological distress when SCS is closed have telephone access to on-call clinicians.

The Maroon story suggests that SCS staffing is low compared with universities of similar sizes; in fact, the opposite is true. UChicago’s student-to-clinician ratio of 702:1, which is cited in the article, is quite good compared with other schools of this size. In fact, the average ratio is three times as large—meaning that those schools have many more students per clinician.

The article goes on to cite an archived staff page from 2005, showing “a staff of 21 clinicians,” compared to “13 practicing clinicians” now. In fact, SCS’s current staff page lists 15 practicing clinicians, not including two vacant positions and 8 trainees. Moreover, in 2005 a significant portion of the clinicians worked part-time. A more meaningful measure is the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) on staff, which shows the office’s overall working capacity. In 2005, the 21 clinicians translated into 15.48 FTEs. Currently SCS has 16.62 FTEs, including two vacant positions that we are seeking to fill.

It is true that SCS is currently operating with fewer psychiatrists than in the past, and as a result students who require a routine appointment with a psychiatrist may wait longer than would typically be the case. That said, students who require an emergent psychiatric appointment are still seen by a psychiatrist. SCS is conducting a national search for an additional staff psychiatrist. Additionally, SCS is also adding a new position—an advanced practice psychiatric nurse—for which a search is also currently underway.

Thank you for allowing me to clarify these points. As director of SCS, it is important to me that all students are aware of the high-quality mental health services that are available and accessible to them, from an extremely dedicated and caring staff of clinicians. I understand that not every student’s schedule will allow them to accept the appointment time that is offered within our five day service standard. Indeed, balancing academic and work commitments with the need to seek services can present significant challenges. Nevertheless, it would be a shame if students were discouraged from seeking services because they mistakenly assume that they will encounter an excessive wait. 

—David Albert, director of Student Counseling Service