At a launch event on Sept. 21, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) unveiled details of an initiative that will massively increase the number of clinical psychologists trained in Saskatchewan.
The expansion to USask’s Graduate Program in Clinical Psychology is funded by a multimillion-dollar investment, announced earlier this year, from the Government of Saskatchewan’s Health Human Resources Action Plan.
Over the next five years, the program in the Department of Psychology and Health Studies will quadruple its training seats for PhD clinical psychologists, growing from an intake of five students each year to 20. The increase in seats will be permanent.
“This investment from the provincial government is extraordinary. The expanded clinical psychology program will have an immediate effect on improving mental health services in our province, and the impact will grow each year,” said Dr. Brooke Milne (PhD), dean of the College of Arts and Science at USask.
The new clinical psychology PhD students will start contributing to the health system in the first year of their training. Under close supervision by registered psychologists, the students will offer psychotherapy and assessment services to the public.
“Building a stronger, more responsive health care workforce begins with delivering quality training,” Advanced Education Minister Gordon Wyant said. “Clinical psychologists are, and will continue to be, a vital part of the health-care system. Expanding this program will give more of our health sciences students opportunities to grow, to be challenged, and to develop into exceptional practitioners.”
To accommodate the larger group of students, the expansion includes funding to build lab spaces and enlarge the USask Psychology Clinic. The expanded clinic will be equipped with Telehealth technology to offer remote services across the province. Students will also travel to northern communities to provide in-person mental health services.
The campus clinic currently serves around 50 clients per year. After the expansion, that number is expected to grow to more than 400.
“We’re hoping to reduce barriers to accessing mental health services, including financial barriers,” said Dr. Megan O’Connell (PhD), co-director of clinical psychology training at USask. “It’s a huge shift. It’s going to really change the face of training clinical psychologists in Saskatoon, and it’s going to have a ripple effect throughout the province.”
Clinical psychologists play a critical role in conducting research and providing mental health care in Saskatchewan, but a shortage of qualified PhD graduates prevents many residents from quickly accessing treatment and assessments.
USask’s accredited Graduate Program in Clinical Psychology is highly competitive, accepting less than 10 per cent of applicants. About 40 per cent of Saskatchewan’s registered doctoral-level clinical psychologists are graduates of the program.
O’Connell anticipates that many future graduates will choose to stay and practise in Saskatchewan.
“People who have family and roots here in the province tend to want to stay here. And we have many examples of people who were born and raised in other regions of the country, went to graduate school here and stayed here.”
August Kortzman, who is originally from British Columbia, is in his sixth year of the USask clinical psychology program under O’Connell’s supervision. After graduation, he plans to remain in Saskatchewan to provide clinical services while continuing his research on improving the quality of life of caregivers of people with dementia.
“I love Saskatoon and Saskatchewan is a great province. This program is amazing,” Kortzman said.
The expansion at USask has already begun. The program accepted a larger cohort of seven students this year and will gradually increase its annual intake until 2027, when the first class of 20 students will join.
Eight new tenure-track faculty positions will be added to the program by 2027. So far, two new faculty members and two additional staff psychologists have been recruited.
The Health Human Resources Action Plan is also funding the creation of 15 additional training seats in the Master of Physical Therapy Program in USask’s School of Rehabilitation Science.
The expanded USask Psychology Clinic is planned to open in 2025. More information about services offered at the current clinic is available on the clinic website.