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2021

Published on July 20, 2021

First residents in Billings Clinic Psychiatry Residency program arrive in Billings

Billings Clinic is pleased to announce that the psychiatrists in the inaugural class of Montana’s first-ever psychiatry residency program have arrived in Billings, providing additional mental health resources and helping to meet the ongoing need for more psychiatrists serving the region. 

“This first class of residents is a very intelligent, well-educated group of young doctors with a pioneering spirit and a passion for serving rural and underserved communities,” said John Powers, MD, Billings program director and Billings Clinic psychiatrist. “This residency will increase the number of well-trained psychiatrists we have here at Billings Clinic and in the region and expand access, which will provide the communities we serve with much-needed mental health services.”

Psychiatry Residents

  • Brian Schlidt (Casper, WY) completed his undergraduate degree in Physiology from the University of Wyoming and is completing Medical School at the University of Washington as part of the WWAMI program. During medical school he volunteered at a free clinic in Cody Wyoming. He participated RUOP (rural and underserved opportunities program) during which he helped design a program to try to decrease suicide by increasing mental health literacy in rural underserved parts of Wyoming.
  • Russell Ollerton (Half Moon Bay, CA) completed his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University in Exercise Science. During that time, he volunteered extensively as a crisis hotline operator. Before attending medical school at the University of Utah, he worked at a care facility for people with intellectual disabilities. During medical school he developed a psychiatric educational YouTube channel and helped to coufound a Music in Medicine Group. He also produced a music therapy album designed to help people with PTSD and anxiety.
  • Kimiko (Koko) Urata (Juneau, AK) received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biology from Stanford University. She is currently completing medical school at the University of Washington where she participated in the underserved pathway, a program for medical students interested in caring for underserved and vulnerable populations. She also participated in a special program focused on enhancing the health of rural populations. Urata was the two-time recipient of a service award for commitment to advocacy work.   

For decades, three states – Montana, Wyoming and Alaska – have consistently reported suicide rates that are, or are among, the highest in the country. They have also been the only states without residency programs to train psychiatrists. Rural areas in Montana and throughout the region face a mental health crisis due to high suicide rates, isolation and a lack of mental health care resources and providers. 

Considering these needs and with the support of a $3 million grant awarded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Billings Clinic created in 2018 Montana’s first-ever psychiatry residency program. Called the Montana Track at Billings Clinic, this program is a regional track of the University of Washington Psychiatry Residency Training Program. The Billings Clinic Foundation also conducted an endowment campaign to provide ongoing support for the residency. 

The four-year residency provides a hands-on training experience to the hand-picked residents, all with a strong desire to serve in rural areas. The program will include a total of 12 residents across all four years of the residency curriculum. After completing medical school, residents will spend their first two years in Seattle, Washington, and complete the final two years at Billings Clinic with elective rotations in areas throughout Montana.

Through the residency, psychiatrists train to become change agents in the rural communities they serve by uncovering and nurturing their passions, teaching evidence-based clinical skills and inspiring innovative approaches to closing gaps in community-based systems of mental health care.

“With the arrival of this first class, the residents, our faculty, and Billings Clinic at large have entered into the history of graduate medical education as the first psychiatry residency to ever exist in Montana,” Dr. Powers said. “Billings Clinic is an academic medical center while also being Montana’s largest health care system serving communities in Montana, Wyoming, and the western Dakotas. Having a psychiatry residency here is important because doctors tend to stay in the area in which they complete their residency. That means those communities, as vast an area as our service area is, will have better access to psychiatric care as this residency produces more and more well-trained psychiatrists.”

The on-campus residents are integrated into Billings Clinic Psychiatric Services, which includes Montana’s largest outpatient psychiatric practice, a 44-bed inpatient psychiatric unit serving children and adults, and the state’s most comprehensive behavioral health team made up of psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and additional staff. 

Billings Clinic psychiatry programs and resources available to residents include Project ECHO Billings Clinic, which provides tele-mentoring and teaching support across the state; the Eastern Montana Telemedicine Network, based at Billings Clinic and one of the country’s first providers of telepsychiatry services; interventional psychiatry; and the new Psychiatric Stabilization Unit, an innovative unit designed to get patients in psychiatric crisis out of the Emergency Department and into an outpatient setting that provides access to psychiatric assessment and treatment services within 24 hours.

The psychiatry residency is the culmination of a statewide effort that began in 2014 when the Montana Healthcare Foundation awarded Billings Clinic a $50,000 planning grant to study the feasibility of a psychiatric residency program. This work eventually pulled together a diverse group of interested people and organizations from across Montana to successfully work with the 2017 Montana Legislature on the approval of increased graduate medical education funding, a portion of which is being allocated to the residency. That group includes Rep. Don Jones, Sen. Al Olszewski, Sen. Roger Webb and all of the Yellowstone County legislative delegation, Dick Brown and Bob Olson of the Montana Hospital Association, the Montana Medical Association, Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian and the Montana Graduate Medical Education Council.

“There are so many people who have contributed to help Billings Clinic get ready to give these residents an excellent and unique training experience,” Dr. Powers said. “They’ve given their effort, their time and in some cases their money to ensure its success. Many, many thanks to everyone, inside of Billings Clinic and out, who has worked so hard to get us ready for the resident’s arrival.  To do something like this, having a vision is important, but those who execute the vision are every bit as critical to the success of the endeavor.”

The residents began training at the University of Washington in July of 2019. For more information, visit www.uwmtpsychtrack.org.

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