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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, with strengths in both biological psychiatry and psychotherapy (and everything in between!). Residents provide care to an incredibly diverse patient population and work at a wide array of clinical sites. Residents’ education is further supplemented by a robust didactic curriculum taught by leaders in the field. Our residency community is diverse, tight-knit, and supportive, and we view strong mentorship and resident wellness as essential parts of the residency training experience.

State-of-the Art Behavioral Health Center

In April 2021 we were thrilled to open the doors to our newly constructed Behavioral Health Center at Duke Regional Hospital. This state-of-the-art facility includes a 42-bed inpatient unit, an 18-bed psychiatric emergency department, and a large neurotherapeutics suite and outpatient clinic. The building is spacious, thoughtfully designed, and flooded with natural light. Hallmarks of the psychiatric inpatient and emergency department include all private patient rooms, access to outdoor courtyards for patients, and ample physician workspaces. Residents will rotate at this site for several months over the course of training during their Duke inpatient, emergency psychiatry, and outpatient clinic experiences. 

Outstanding Clinical Training

The hallmark of the Duke Psychiatry Residency Program is that we provide residents with outstanding clinical training. With residents completing core clinical rotations at Duke, the Durham VA Medical Center, and Central Regional Hospital (a state hospital), residents work with and learn from an incredibly diverse patient population and a wide array of experienced and dedicated teaching attendings.

Residents also receive robust psychotherapy training, including through their participation during PGY3 in the Duke Family Studies Program, where expert family and couples therapists provide live supervision and feedback during therapy sessions. Resident also receive outstanding individual psychotherapy training in supportive therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Beyond this, residents can also participate in a range of psychotherapy electives, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, trauma-focused therapy.

Emphasis on Diversity

At Duke, we are proud to have an incredibly diverse psychiatry residency program. In fact, our residents hail from 18 different countries! We actively recruit outstanding residents to join our community who have attended medical school from all corners of the US and the world. The diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives among our residents and faculty add immense richness to the training experience.

We are also fortunate to live and work in a city as diverse as Durham. We see an incredibly diverse patient population across our core hospital sites (Duke, VA, and the state hospital). In addition, we have several community psychiatry rotations including the Lincoln Community Mental Health Center serving Durham’s Black community and El Futuro serving Latinx families in a bilingual environment. We train residents to provide outstanding care to diverse communities through didactic curricula on topics such as social determinants of health, structural racism, cultural formulation, implicit and explicit bias, as well as through our Anti-Racism curriculum. 

Focus on Resident Wellness

Resident wellness is a huge priority in the Duke Psychiatry Residency. We approach this from multiple directions, including community building, social activities, efforts to prevent burnout, and working to increase access to mental health treatment. We actively help residents learn to find balance between their personal and professional lives, and our faculty strive to model this as well. Our residency culture supports and embraces vulnerability, and we work to create safe spaces where residents can be vulnerable with colleagues and mentors.

Opportunities to Pursue Specialized Interests

At Duke, we offer three specialized tracks for residents with specific interests in any of these areas:

  • Physician Scientist Track
  • Clinician Educator Track
  • Psychotherapy Track

In addition, residents at Duke have the opportunity to take advantage of an incredible array of elective opportunities. These include numerous electives in child and adolescent psychiatry (Child Outpatient Clinic, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, College Student Mental Health, ADHD Clinic, Child Med-Psych Clinic, Child Consult-Liaison), and other psychiatry sub-specialties (forensics, geriatrics, sleep, consultation-liaison, addictions).

Our ECT elective is one of our most popular electives, with more than half of our residents opting to participate. Some other popular electives include the Gender Care Clinic, neuropsychiatry, hospice and palliative care, eating disorders, perinatal psychiatry, psycho-oncology and a six-month-long global health elective in New Zealand.

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.