By Wendy Sarubbi | September 30, 2014 2:32 pm

The College of Medicine said thank you September 19 to the psychiatry preceptors who are training M.D. students on the science and art of caring for patients’ mental health. And as part of the Psychiatry Volunteer Faculty Dinner Reception, Dr. Martin Klapheke, a psychiatrist and assistant dean of medical education, provided a continuing medical education seminar on assessing and preventing suicide.

M.D. students’ third-year clerkships include a psychiatric rotation and this year, some students are doing that and other training at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in St. Petersburg. There, each student works with a psychiatric supervisor to interview and evaluate patients, helps determine hospital admission for acute patients, and provides psychiatric support for veterans suffering from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.

“Our veterans have many of the health issues we see in the civilian population – hypertension, diabetes, vascular disease – but on top of that they have additional challenges like social issues, alcoholism, PTSD,” said Dr. Alfonso Carreno, a psychiatrist at Bay Pines. “You really have to address all of these issues to help the patient.”

Dr. Carreno said the VA has championed evidence-based care for combat veterans suffering from PTSD, giving UCF medical students an opportunity to see the latest research on effective post-combat care. Bay Pines also has students participate in a Journal Club, where they review, discuss and present research on mental health topics.

Bay Pines VA psychiatrist Dr. Alina Gonzalez-Mayo praised UCF’s medical students, saying they set themselves apart with their professionalism, level of interest in their patients and their inquisitiveness. “These are not students who yawn when they’re in lecture,” echoed Dr. Carreno.

Thanks to the dedication and skills of their core and volunteer faculty, UCF medical students are excelling on national board exams, especially in psychiatry, said Dr. Richard Peppler, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. Dr. Peppler shared statistics in thanking preceptors for “the knowledge our students are gaining from you. I am very appreciative.” For example:

  •  The most current statistics show that UCF medical students earned an average score of 84.7 on the National Board subject exam for psychiatry. The national average was 80.2.
  • The Class of 2015’s average score was eight points higher than the national average on the Step 2 USMLE for clinical knowledge. UCF students scored higher than the national average in all 22 subject areas, with the highest in the two sections of “Psychiatry” and “Mental Disorders.”

Preceptors said mental health training is imperative, no matter what specialty a student ultimately selects as a career. That’s because how a patient reacts to illness, whether they take their medications as prescribed, and ultimately whether they achieve overall good health all depend on their mental health, they said.

Dr. Mark Williams is a psychologist at Life Care Center, which provides long-term and assisted living care across the state and nation. He said medical students may assume they’re doing training at a nursing home when they arrive at Life Care Center, but long-term care involves patients from “cradle to grave.”

Life Care patients include children with developmental disabilities on ventilators and feeding tubes, young adults with spinal cord injuries, adults getting post-hospital care for heart attacks and strokes, and seniors living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. All have different physical – and psychological needs, he said. “We are not a psychiatric facility per se,” he said, “but we certainly see how psychological issues impact the practice of medicine.”

He advised that The Good Doctor cannot sweep the psychological issues of their patients under the rug. “Our patients come in a package, whether it’s a heart attack patient who now feels suicidal or a senior who is grieving a loss of independence after being placed in a nursing home,” he said. “Psychosocial issues are part of who the patient is.”

Ultimately, psychiatric training can help medical students expand their skills in building a relationship with each patient, Dr. Williams said. “The relationship with a patient is stronger medicine than any drug they will ever receive.”

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