SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois psychologists are asking state lawmakers to let them prescribe medicine as if they were medical doctors, igniting a turf war between two professions that may seem similar on the surface but require far different training.
Psychologists like Dr. Jeff Weishaar of Arlington Heights say they should be allowed the same ability to prescribe drugs as psychiatrists, who have medical degrees.
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Weishaar, president of Compass Behavioral Health, a suburban psychological treatment group, said patients sometimes have to wait six months or longer to be seen by a professional who can write a prescription.
"Psychologists are far more spread out in the state than psychiatrists are" and therefore more available to patients, he said.
But psychiatrists don't see it that way.
"If this passes, Illinois will go down in history as the state that has allowed the absolute lowest standards for psychology prescribing to go through," said Dr. Lisa Rone, a Chicago psychiatrist and past president of the Illinois Psychiatric Association.
An Illinois Senate panel has given early approval to psychologists, and a vote on the Senate floor could come later.
Rone says psychiatrists are medical doctors who've completed four years of medical school and four years of psychiatry residency in addition to one to two years of specialization, all of which is regulated by the state medical board.
Psychologists undergo four years of academic training, three of which include clinical experiences, plus a yearlong internship in a clinical setting that culminates in a doctoral degree. That's followed by a dissertation and a postdoctoral position in his or her specialized field.
But Rone said psychologists can earn their degrees without spending a second in an anatomy or physiology lab throughout their education.
"You can understand that it's a bill that makes us concerned about the public safety," said Rone, a clinical assistant professor at Northwestern Medical School.
Weishaar said there have not been complaints filed against psychologists in New Mexico and Louisiana, the only two states to allow prescribing psychologists. Plus, he said, psychologists in the armed services have been prescribing drugs for decades.
"There is no data that supports the claim that it is a threat to public safety," Weishaar said, noting psychologists have "a lot of training specifically toward diagnosing and treating mental health" issues.
Under the proposal, psychologists would have to complete a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology before being allowed to prescribe drugs. The required curriculum would include anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, neurosciences and other subjects related to medicine. The program would take about two years to complete and some courses could be completed online.