UnitedHealth Group and University of California San Diego Teaming to Help Grow and Diversify State’s Mental Health Workforce

October 20, 2020 | 2 min Read
  • Four-year, $4 million UnitedHealth Group grant will help UC San Diego to grow and diversify the workforce of child and adolescent psychiatrists 

  • Initiative addresses a projected critical shortage of psychiatrists in the state of California 

  • A similar grant relationship with UC San Francisco, also being announced today, will address mental health workforce needs in Northern California

The University of California San Diego and UnitedHealth Group are announcing a new four-year, $4 million grant collaboration to expand the mental health workforce in California. Led by UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and funded by UnitedHealth Group, the collaboration aims to diversify the pipeline of child and adolescent psychiatrists and encourage medical students to pursue careers in this field through the introduction of novel learning opportunities, individualized mentorship, scholarships, and financial education support for participating residents. Together, these initiatives will help create an inclusive, skilled workforce representing the changing social, racial and economic demography of California’s children, youth and families.

In addition to the collaboration with UC San Diego, UnitedHealth Group has also awarded a four-year, $4 million grant to the University of California, San Francisco, to grow the pipeline of diverse child and adolescent mental health clinicians. That grant will create new clinical learning opportunities and mentoring supports for child and adolescent psychiatry fellows and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, as well as provide scholarships and financial supports to underrepresented medical and nursing students pursuing child and adolescent mental health careers.

California has a mental health professional workforce shortage that is projected to worsen unless meaningful action is taken to address it, according to the California Future Health Workforce Commission. There are only 13 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children in California, compared to 75 pediatricians per 100,000 children. By 2028, California will have only about half of the psychiatrists it will need to serve residents in need of treatment, and 28% fewer psychologists, social workers and counselors than necessary to meet the projected demand, according to the UC San Francisco’s Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. In some communities and regions, the shortages will be even worse.

“When children don’t receive care for a treatable mental health condition, they can’t reach their full potential,” said Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). “This collaboration between UnitedHealth Group and UC San Diego is an investment in our future. It will help to build a diverse health workforce that will better serve the mental health needs of California’s youth, and specifically, our teenagers.”

UnitedHealth Group intends to help build a stronger community of students pursuing careers in child and adolescent psychiatry – and ultimately help grow a health workforce that is well-prepared to address the distinct mental health needs of children and youth in California.

“Providing the right care at the right time is every bit as important for mental health as it is physical health,” said Dr. Amar Desai, CEO of Optum Care California, a UnitedHealth Group company. “By expanding and diversifying the mental health workforce, UnitedHealth Group intends to do its part to help increase access to needed care and make the health system work better for everyone.”


It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 children living in the United States experiences a mental disorder in a given year, according to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report. The teen suicide rate has increased 34% in California in the past four years for adolescents ages 15-19, according to America’s Health Rankings 2020 Health of Women and Children Data Update.

New programs enabled by the grant and led by UC San Diego School of Medicine are already up and running, including a new summer immersion program for first- and second-year medical students to introduce them to the field of child and adolescent psychiatry.

“We want to provide the exposure as well as the support that is necessary to succeed in medicine,” said Desiree Shapiro, M.D., associate clinical professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the Child and Adolescent Inclusive Excellence Summer Program. “The program’s learning opportunities showcase the incredible career choice of child and adolescent psychiatry and also emphasize collaborative learning from one another and our communities. The medical journey is arduous and creating an understanding and encouraging network has the power to alleviate stress, promote medical student well-being and inspire future leaders to use their voices to positively impact their communities and mental health systems of care.”

The Child and Adolescent Inclusive Excellence Summer Program has built clear pathways to encourage medical students and psychiatry residents to choose child and adolescent psychiatry as a future career. With the support of UnitedHealth Group, the program has enabled students to overcome the varying obstacles that stand in the way of that choice.

“Grants, such as that from UnitedHealth Group, help us achieve a shared goal of preparing tomorrow’s health care leaders to serve our increasingly diverse and interconnected communities,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “Support like this allows UC San Diego’s health community of faculty, staff and students to remain at the forefront of combating mental illness through discovery, educating future generations of scientists and clinicians and delivering best treatments. And that is in all of our best interest

About UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health care company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and helping make the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at or follow @UnitedHealthGrp on Twitter.