Residency Targets Pediatric Psychiatry

September 4, 2004

Heather Heilman
Phone: (504) 865-5714

According to Brian Stafford, the most underserved medical specialty in the nation is child and adolescent psychiatry. "I think there's one child psychiatrist between Lafayette and Shreveport," said Stafford, assistant professor of psychiatry/neurology. "A lot of people who would be great child psychiatrists go into psychology, where they can be done training in six years instead of nine. Or they do clinical training and become a pediatrician."

Nationally, medical schools have had a hard time filling residencies in child psychiatry, and Tulane has been no exception. But Stafford is the training director of a new residency program that combines pediatrics, general psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry and which already has far more applicants than spaces. The program's first two trainees arrived at Tulane this summer.

Stafford expects to have about 40 applicants for the two spots available next year. Only 11 schools in the country have this type of triple-board program, which attracts young doctors who might otherwise have chosen a traditional pediatrics program. They're interested in psychiatry but want to work with children in the context of the family as a whole and feel the need for a good grounding in pediatrics.

Tulane is the only medical school in the Deep South with such a program. After completing the program, trainees will be eligible to take board exams in all three disciplines. Training in pediatrics is especially helpful for doctors like Stafford who work with many children under the age of 6, who can't easily explain their psychological experiences.

"Pediatricians see a lot of psycho-social problems." Stafford said. "Also, pediatricians focus a lot on prevention, and much of what I do is preventive child psychiatry."

A typical residency in child psychiatry would include about two months of training in pediatrics. The triple residency program opens with a year of comprehensive pediatric residency training, and then the focus gradually shifts to inpatient and then outpatient psychiatry for adults and children. But the three subjects are not treated as separate topics.

Instead, the program seeks to integrate the three disciplines as much as possible, which requires a great deal of cooperation between all three departments. Throughout the five years of the program, trainees spend time each week in a pediatric clinic. Stafford graduated from Tulane University School of Medicine and completed the triple-board program at the University of Kentucky.

He returned to Tulane in order to work with Charles Zeanah, a prominent figure in the field of infant mental health, and was instrumental in establishing the program at Tulane. Neil Boris, Josh Cabrera and Mary Margaret Gleason are other members of the Tulane faculty who graduated from triple-board programs and who will be involved in training Tulane's triple-board residents.

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