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Psychiatry Residency

Program Leadership - Heather Vestal, MD, Program Director; Marla Wald, MD, Associate Program Director; Julie Penzner, MD, Associate Program DirectorThe Duke Psychiatry Residency Program, led by Heather Vestal, MD, MHS, is a part of the Duke University Health System, a nationally ranked academic medical center and one of the most sophisticated centers in the world for medical education. Residents receive broad-based training with an emphasis on the biopsychosocial model of mental illness.

Learn more about Dr. Vestal.

Why Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences?

Duke offers psychiatry residents a balanced, holistic education, integrating theoretical and scientific understandings of psychiatry. Residents learn through clinical experiences at various training sites in a range of healthcare delivery settings, and through lecture-based and interactive learning experiences offered in academic half-day sessions by leaders in the field.

Top-Notch Psychotherapy Training & Supervision

Our faculty supervisors represent expertise in all types of psychotherapy. Seminars, experience with patients and mentoring from supervisors offer a strong foundation of psychotherapy competency, with opportunities for trainees to develop proficiency in one or more specific areas of psychotherapy. 

Features of our psychotherapy training include: 

  • Exposure to concepts and practice in psychotherapy in the first year, with weekly PGY1 process groups.
  • Experience with different psychotherapy supervisors throughout the program.
  • Live supervision of therapy patients during the PGY2 year using one-way mirror observation for trainees to watch expert clinicians conduct psychotherapy.
  • Participation during the PGY3 year in the Duke Family Studies Program, where expert family and couples therapists provide live supervision and feedback during therapy sessions.
  • A range of psychotherapy practicum electives during the PGY3 and PGY4 years.  

Commitment to Evidence-Based Medicine

Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM)—the use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients—is at the heart of our approach to clinical care and education. EBM integrates individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research. 

Residents take an introductory EBM course during the PGY1 year, participate in weekly EBM conferences at the Durham VA Medical Center and critically appraise methods in published literature during the weekly chair’s conference. Residents practice these skills on the ward and in the clinic, and attending psychiatrists and supervisors apply an evidence-based approach to resident supervision.

Focus on Quality Improvement

In academic medical centers, trainees inevitably observe systems in need of improvement. To help residents find a voice for effective advocacy, Duke places significant emphasis on quality improvement. 

To effect meaningful improvements, trainees gain first-hand experience in identifying data, involving stakeholders and leading small but measurable projects. Trainee quality improvement efforts have ranged from enhancing the care and safety for patients and staff in the Emergency Department to facilitating transitions of care and other arenas.

Leadership in Clinical Collaboration

A leader in collaborative care, the Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences department works with a number of other departments to provide holistic clinical care. Examples include stepped care with a case manager in the Medicine training clinic, psycho-oncology services at the Duke Cancer Center, transplant psychiatry services in the renowned Duke Transplant Center and collaborative care in the Duke Emergency Department.

The relationship between faculty and trainees is one of collaboration and cooperation. Faculty are extremely approachable and, in my experience, have always done a good job balancing mentorship and availability with resident autonomy.