Several years ago, I attended an anniversary of the University of Wisconsin Department of Psychiatry, the program I eventually completed my residency at. Thomas Insel, MD was one of the invited speakers. He outlined a revolutionary approach to educating psychiatry residents that involved a joint 2 year neuroscience internship with residents from neurology and neurosurgery. He did not provide any details. When I sent him a follow up e-mail two years later, he said it would probably not happen on his watch. I can easily build on that theme. I think that a two year program focused on basic and clinical neuroscience remains a good approach. The current approach to getting the relevant information is haphazard at best. It depends on lectures in neuroscience being interspersed with clinical rotations of varying quality and to a large extent it depends on the faculty. How many faculty are there and how many of them are expected to produce managed care style billings or "productivity" rather than high quality teaching.
A comprehensive and integrated approach that will teach state of the art neuroscience and provide the relevant training in neurology and medicine is possible. There are many obvious areas for improvement. Residents often spend their time on clinical rotations of minimal relevance for psychiatrists. I can recall learning ICU medicine and needing to familiarize myself with various tasks (Swan-Ganz catheters, central lines, ventilator settings, dopamine drips, balloon pumps) that I would never use again. I needed to be seeing hundreds of people with heart disease, arrhythmias, hypertension, diabetes, other endocrine disorders and neurological disorders. I saw many of those people when they were hospitalized, but seeing these folks in ambulatory care settings designed to enhance the learning experience for a psychiatrist would provide a better experience. The process should probably start earlier in the fourth year of medical school. Prospective psychiatrists should be focused on electives in neurology, medicine, and neurosurgery rather than psychiatry.
The teaching of psychiatry needs to address the practical concerns about diagnosis and treatment but also philosophical concerns. Residents need to be familiar with the antipsychiatry philosophy and the existing literature that refutes it. Residents need to know about the issue of the validity and reliability of psychiatric diagnoses and how that is established. There is actually a rich history of how that came about but it could easily be summarized in one seminar. One of the features that I was interested in when I was interviewing for residency positions was whether or not the program supplied a reading list. There were surprisingly few that did. This subject area would be a good example of required reading that is necessary to bring any prospective resident up to speed.
A good model to illustrate the difference between a neuroscience based approach as opposed to a symptoms based approach is American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) definition of addiction on their web site. Unlike the DSM collection of symptoms designed to pick a group of statistical outliers, the ASAM definition correlates known addictive behaviors with brain substrates or systems. Both of the standard texts in the field by Lowinson and Ruiz and the ASAM text by Ries, Feillin, Miller, and Saitz are chock full of neuroscience as it applies to addiction. When I teach those lectures, I generally am talking about how medications work in addiction at that level but also how psychological and social factors work at the level of neurobiology. I have not seen the DSM5 at this time, but I do think that it is time to move past defining every possible substance of abuse and associated syndrome and incorporating neuroscience. Especially when the neuroscience in this case has been around for 50 years. Residency programs need to teach that level of detail.
Psychiatrists need to maintain superior communication skills relative to other physicians and that means getting a good basic experience in interviewing and psychotherapy techniques. At the same time - the psychiatrist of the future needs to be able to order and interpret tests including ECGs and MRI scans. That wide skill base taxes every faculty except the very largest academic departments. In the Internet age, there is really no reason that every residency program should not have access to the same standardized PowerPoints, lectures, and didactic material. The ASCP Model Psychopharmacology Program is an excellent example of what is possible. I would go a step beyond that and say that there should be a culture within organized psychiatry so that every psychiatrist should have access to the same material. Establishing a culture where everyone (trainees and practicing psychiatrists alike) is up to speed and competent across the broad array of topics that psychiatrists need to be familiar with is a proven approach that is rarely used in medical education.
Psychiatry also needs to be focused on old school quality. Not the kind of quality that depends on a customer satisfaction survey. The issues of diagnostic assessment and appropriate prescribing at at the top of the list. How do we make sure that every person consulting with a psychiatrist gets a high quality evaluation and treatment plan and not a plan dictated by a managed care company? The University of Wisconsin has a paradigm for networking with all physicians in their collaborative Memory Clinics program. I see no reason why that could not be extended to different diagnostic groups across the state. The focus would be on quality assessment and to prevent outliers in terms of treatment. It could be open to any psychiatrist who wanted to join and it could have additional benefits of providing university resources like online access to the medical library to clinicians in the field.
An interested, excited, and technically competent psychiatrist is the ultimate goal of residency and it should continue throughout the career of a psychiatrist. That can only happen with a focus on professionalism at all levels. My definition of professionalism does not include managing costs so that a managed care organization can make more money. Psychiatrists need to forget about being cost effective and get back to defining and providing the best possible care.
George Dawson, MD. DFAPA