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  • Public and Community Psychiatry Fellowship

    Public and Community Psychiatry

    Public and Community Psychiatry (PCP) is a growing field across the nation. Critical to promoting not only individuals but also local populations, the importance of the work of community psychologists are highlighted by the recent pandemic, election tension, and racial issues.

    Historically, it has been hard for minority and low socioeconomic patients to get the help they need. Through PCP programs, patients with often complex needs receive publicly funded services (through government sponsored Medicare/Medicaid and government sponsored programs at the local level).

    “A great thing we are seeing is a trend with younger psychiatrists who are showing interest in Public and Community Psychiatry. They are moving away from the traditional private practice model and want to help patients with an open door – meeting the needs of any patient who desires help” notes Alison Swigart, MD, the fellowship’s new Program Director.


    Alison Swigart, M.D.

    Alison Swigart, M.D.

    “For many, the social determinants of health (housing, neighborhood, financial resources) are often outside of their control and impact the ease of which they can access care. What’s unique about the PCP program is that it helps bridge that gap for these patients. Another unique part of PCP is that we look at things from a biopsychosocial perspective. Meaning, it is more than just genetics that determines someone’s risk of mental illness. We look at the whole person – their current circumstances, what causes distress – looking at the person versus solely prescribing medications helps create better overall outcomes.”

    Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (PPI) is proud to offer a relatively new fellowship program partnering with Penn State Health. One of four fellowships of its kind in Pennsylvania, the Public and Community Psychiatry Fellowship at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is a one-year, non-ACGME-accredited program that accepts two fellows per year. “As we complete our first year with this program (2020-2021), we are getting ready to graduate our first fellow.” Dr. Swigart mentions. 

    New in this role since February 2021, Dr. Swigart is responsible for the recruitment and supervision of the PCP program’s fellows for their clinical work and the rotation in community psychiatry for Penn State general residents. “What I like about this role is that there are only four fellowships like this across the state and we all get to collaborate with each other and the PA Psychiatric Leadership Council. The council partners with the state to address the shortage in the public behavioral health sector. We get to meet regularly with them to discuss the fellows and educational initiatives across the four PA fellowships. Through our dedication and partnership, all four fellowship sites have been designated centers of excellence in community psychiatry training by the PA Psychiatric Leadership Council” explains Dr. Swigart.

    “What makes our fellowship stand out from the others is the focus on mental health advocacy. We are able to take advantage of our proximity to capitol and meet with legislators. We also offer flexibility with the clinical experience, designing it based on experience. Most do a combo of clinical care at PPI and at a community behavioral health organization that PPI partners with to experience different care settings.”

    “One of our goals in this fellowship is to train our psychologists to be effective leaders in the field; to be able to help improve the whole system of mental health care over the long run. One of the unique aspects of this fellowship is that they get to design a seminar on mental health advocacy. Our current fellow worked with someone experienced in advocacy while he did research on food insecurity and its impact on mental health. He was then able to present his findings to members of the PA state legislature and suggest strategies to improve access to food to patients with mental health problems. He also had the opportunity to complete the Penn State College of Medicine health systems science academy, which helps health care providers understand how health systems work and how to change them.”

    Currently, we as a nation are experiencing a shortage of well-trained psychiatrists practicing in hospital settings for the underserved populations that really need it. This lack can be felt even more so in PA. Supported by an initiative by the PA office of mental health and substance abuse, the PCP fellowship at PPI is part of an initiative to recruit and maintain high-quality psychiatrists in Pennsylvania.

    “The initiation of this fellowship really demonstrates the commitment of PPI and their partnership with Penn State College of Medicine to improving mental health and improving the population in central PA” proudly states Dr. Swigart.

    Learn more about the Public and Community Psychiatry Fellowship at:

    If you would like to speak to someone about better managing your stress and anxiety, or to make an appointment, please call (717) 782-6493 for more information.


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