For Anthony Finch, Geriatric Psychiatry Is a Path to Helping Others

By Jianna Choi

“Particularly in geriatric psychiatry, that specter of death is hanging over everything,” said Anthony Finch, MD, a geriatric psychiatry fellow in Duke’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. 

From 2023-2053, 73 million people in the United States, on average, will be 65 or older—twice the figure from 1983 to 2022. A rapidly expanding older adult population will mean more people grappling with the notion of death and a growing need for psychiatrists and other behavioral health professionals who are trained to serve this population. 

Finch’s passion for helping older adults tackle their fear of death and other challenges unique to their demographic emerged after a long and winding career journey—eventually landing him here at Duke. 

Early Inspiration

As a practicing Catholic, Finch became exposed to spiritual and philosophical inquiry early on at his Catholic high school in New York City. There, he started to consider questions such as, “Why do you look at two people’s MRIs and, as long as they’re healthy, they look the same? They are two very different people. What makes them different?” 

After completing his undergraduate degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute at NYU, he decided to pursue medical school. Finch had grown up feeling comfortable in a hospital setting because his mother was a doctor, and he saw medicine as a practical way to serve others.

Though he entered Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City considering neurosurgery and a few other options, his psychiatry clerkship gave him more clarity. “That’s where I said, okay, this is what I want to do. I can sit down and really get to know and talk to people. And that was the clincher,” he reflected.

Memorable Times at Cornell

Finch speaks highly of his time at medical school. “There were overall a lot of late nights, obviously, a lot of studying, but my memories of Cornell med school are overwhelmingly positive,” he said. 

He attributed much of the positive experience to his classmates, one of his core memories being from 2015, his first year. His classmates knew he’d grown up an avid New York Mets fan, and when the Mets made it to the World Series that year, his entire class chipped in to buy him tickets to a game in the series. 

“That just kind of embodied a great class, a lot of good friends,” Finch said. 

Finch also attended Cornell for residency, which was heavily affected by the COVID pandemic. His original plan was six months of general medicine, six months of psychiatry as an intern, and then full-time psychiatry. COVID threw a wrench in these plans. “When COVID arrived in New York City as a whole, Cornell got overrun. They needed help,” Finch said. “So I volunteered to go back for the second half of the year for medicine. I basically did an entire year of internal medicine as an intern, the second part being just COVID internal medicine.” 

The remainder of Finch’s residency was marked by typical COVID precautions: masking, quarantine, and virtual outpatient work. Still, Finch remembers his residency fondly, describing it as “a very supportive program and a wonderful environment.” 

Transitioning to Geriatric Psychiatry

After selecting psychiatry as his area of specialty, Finch chose to concentrate in geriatric psychiatry for a few reasons. 

“My grandmother in particular, who was getting older at that time, developed dementia. Seeing how that impacted her and impacted my parents, that was formative,” Finch explained. 

“My grandmother in particular, who was getting older at that time, developed dementia. Seeing how that impacted her and impacted my parents, that was formative.”
Anthony Finch, MD

Finch’s Catholic background also played a significant role in his decision to work in geriatrics. “I believe that it’s not the end. And I know a lot of people do,” he said. “But for someone who’s from a different faith tradition, or someone who has no faith tradition, it’s a question of, ‘What's your understanding of what’s coming? How can we help you if death is something that you’re afraid of? How can we help you to not be so afraid or to at least enjoy the time that you have?’” 

Choosing Duke & Looking toward the Future  

Finch has had his eye on a geriatric psychiatry fellowship at Duke for a while, especially after his residency program director, Julie Penzner, MD, left Cornell to join the Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences faculty and shared glowing reviews about the university and the department.

Several other factors also drew him to Duke. “The program is well designed with so many different options. Right now, I’m doing something different every day. Monday, I have an outpatient clinic; Tuesday, palliative care; Wednesday and Thursday, didactics, and Friday, VA [Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center],” he explained. “You get to see a lot and get a lot of hands-on experience. The program has been fantastic. And the area has been fantastic.” 

He and his wife are thrilled to be living in Durham. Finch has visited all 50 states except for Alaska and Hawaii, and North Carolina has made it into his top three. 

What really sealed the deal for Finch, though, was the close alliance between the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Duke University Health System. Finch has been interested in working with veterans and first responders since he was young and contemplating entering into military service. 

His most recent publication was a systematic review focused on the traumatic effects of 9/11 on the first responders who answered the call that morning. Finch has a range of professional interests, having written several papers on various topics, from improving management of medically ill patients with psychiatric conditions to improving blood pressure. Ultimately, though, he envisions himself working with veterans and similar populations in the long term. 

“I definitely see myself working with veterans and traumatized populations, like the first responder population,” he emphasized. He also has hopes to teach at some point. 

“I definitely see myself working with veterans and traumatized populations, like the first responder population.”
Anthony Finch, MD

While Finch’s aspirations have evolved over time, his career so far and his plans for the future continue to reflect a goal he first formulated in high school: “To be someone who would help others.”

Learn about Duke's geriatric psychiatry fellowship program