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Residents Respond to Frequently Asked Questions


We posed a group of Frequently Asked Questions to our current residents and received many candid responses.  If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact the Department of Psychiatry Residency Training Program, and we will refer you to someone who can provide additional information.

What made you decide to come to Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA)? How are your fellow residents?  The attendings you work with? What do you like to do for fun?  Is there actually any time to pursue outside interests? What research opportunities are there? How are your didactics?  Psychopharmacology training? Psychotherapy training? How responsive are the directors to resident concerns? What is call like? Can you describe your paid Back Up Call? What do you think are the strengths of CHA?  Its weaknesses?

What made you decide to come to Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA)?

During the residency application cycle I sought out a program that had a community feel with a strong academic backing. CHA is exactly that. This program, the hospital, the staff and the individuals who access services at CHA are a strong community that truly cares about each other. Diversity is not only valued here, but it is in the threading of what makes CHA - from interpreter services, electives offered, staff and the immensely diverse and traditionally underserved patient population. I came to my interview at CHA and felt the residents involved in the program had the skills I hoped to gain. They were so welcoming and inspiring. One of the largest factors in choosing CHA is how much the program values psychiatry in a humanistic manner with a strong emphasis on skilled and supervised psychotherapy. Looking for an inclusive, humanistic and academic program with a strong community feel is what lead me to CHA.

- Gaddy Noy, PGY-1
   D.O., Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine

I was drawn to CHA as a result of their mission to care for the underserved, which was extremely apparent to me when I came here for an away elective as a medical student. All the residents I encountered seem genuinely happy to be at CHA, displayed a wide range of interests, and placed an importance on strong academics and learning while still maintaining life balance.

- Joanna MacLean, recent graduate
  M.D., Brown Medical School

One reason among many that I came here is for community: the sense of community here runs deep. This is not a place to come if you want to be anonymous, but if you want to be surrounded by individuals who take interest in you as an individual as much as you as a professional, you'll be pleased. This sense of community crosses disciplines (medicine, psychiatry), it transcends hierarchies (attending, intern), and it ignores roles (doctor, parking attendant). This community is nurturing and supportive, and makes for an ideal learning and training environment.

- Solomon Adelsky, PGY-2
 M.D., Brown Medical School

On my interview day it was immediately apparent that CHA is a unique, special place. The residents and attendings emitted a sense of joy and enthusiasm and it was clear that they truly loved working with their patients and with each other. I felt that CHA's strengths -- a commitment to academic excellence and to the underserved, a progressive approach to healthcare delivery, and an unbelievably warm environment -- makes CHA the ideal place to train. Since coming here my expectations have been exceeded and the past couple of months have been some of the happiest of my life!

- Ariana Nesbit, PGY-2
  M.D., University of New England/Medical School

How are your fellow residents? The attendings you work with?

My fellow residents are a phenomenally fun, intelligent and outgoing group of people. Given that we come from a variety of different backgrounds, it's amazing how well we got along from the beginning. We try to get together regularly outside of work, including monthly potlucks at each others' homes. The PGY2-4s have also been great about giving us advice about residency and Cambridge life in general, both through our "Buddies" program (which pairs each PGY-1 up with a PGY-2), and otherwise.  The attending docs I've encountered so far have been very devoted to resident education. Each doc has taken the time to discuss cases with and offer resident-centered teaching points. And I've even met with them outside of work (e.g. over breakfast) to get some informal lectures on particular topics (e.g. antipsychotics). I think this makes for a relaxed but very effective teaching environment all around.

- Tauheed Zaman, recent graduate
  M.D., Tufts Medical School

One of the biggest draws to CHA for me was the quality of the residents. Not only are my fellow residents highly competent and skilled at psychiatry, but they are just great people to have as your colleagues and friends.  We are a tight knit group, and I know I can turn to them for anything.

- Gillian Sowden, PGY-4
  M.D., Harvard Medical School

Becoming a psych resident, I was worried about my interactions with other fields including internal medicine.  I have been very impressed with how medicine, psychiatry and transitional year interns all work together as one class.  I know every intern by first name, and CHA has done a lot to encourage these relationships.  Additionally, because of the rich history of psychiatry here at CHA, psychiatry interns are very well respected by the attendings.

- Kimberly Leventhal, recent graduate
  M.D., University of Massachusetts

The residents are superb. They are uniformly impressive but in myriad ways. The PGY 2-4 residents are great, and in my (admittedly limited) experience so far, have been consistently supportive, helpful, and happy to teach and guide interns as we adjust to this new role. My co-interns are a wonderful group of thoughtful, kind, pleasant, curious, and fun individuals. The residents here are the best colleagues one could hope for, and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such a balance of rigor and warmth.

- Solomon Adelsky, PGY-2
  M.D., Brown Medical School

I absolutely LOVE my fellow residents and the attendings we work with. Even on a Saturday, I look forward to coming to work because the environment is so positive and, even on a busy shift, we somehow always manage to laugh and to enjoy ourselves. Furthermore, I have been extremely impressed with the residents' intelligence and commitment to excellence. I am constantly inspired by my colleagues to continue to grow and hone my clinical knowledge.

- Ariana Nesbit, PGY-2
  M.D., University of New England/Medical School

What do you like to do for fun? Is there actually any time to pursue outside interests?

For the first two months of intern year, I would sheepishly keep quiet when my buddies from medical school would bemoan their schedules.  I started with two months of elective psychiatry and had my weekends all to myself.  In the first three months of living here I've been to the beach 5 times, Walden Pond twice, Concord, Lexington, Cape Cod… yes.. intern year has been good.  I brought my piano up with me and it has been put to good use.  I was able to finish up my medical school research paper for submission and with some help, organized a meeting of spiritual leaders in the community to bridge our communities.  So yes, on all fronts, professional and personal, there is plenty of time and opportunity.

- Laura Miller, PGY-2
 M.D., Emory University

Cambridge and Somerville are really fun places to live and work, and I’ve had plenty of time to explore them during intern year. I frequently go bouldering at a nearby climbing gym, play music in the Harvard medical community orchestra and in jam sessions around town, and eat at the amazing Brazilian restaurants by my apartment. I’ve also seen some great free plays and shows around Boston. On the weekends, I’ve gone on some cool trips ranging from biking around Maine to gallivanting in New York.

- Michael Alpert, PGY-1
  M.D., Yale School of Medicine

Though it varies by rotation, I've generally had lots of time to keep up with outside interests. I play team trivia at a local bar, go kayaking/canoeing/hiking, and have held my own in keeping up with friends who are local foodies and movie buffs. Boston and Cambridge offer endless opportunities to explore new cuisine (Brazilian and Tibetan restaurants are recent favorites) and museums, art shows, festivals, theater performances, etc. It's also a fairly "young" city, and I've found it's very easy to meet other young professionals in the area through local bar events, volunteer opportunities, etc. Outside the city proper, I've enjoyed day-trips out to the Boston Harbor Islands and Cape Cod during the summer, and heading to nearby New Hampshire and Vermont slopes for skiing in the winter time.

- Tauheed Zaman, recent graduate
  M.D., Tufts Medical School

What research opportunities are there?

Since CHA is a Harvard affiliated residency, there are lots of opportunities to do research within the Harvard system. The CHA residency also offers a good amount of elective time that can be dedicated to research, such that you have protected time to work on your projects. I used some elective time during my PGY-1 year to work with a researcher at MGH on a research project that will hopefully result in a first author publication.

- Gillian Sowden, PGY-4
  M.D., Harvard Medical School

How are your didactics? Psychopharmacology training?  Psychotherapy training?

We have two psychopharm clinics in the PGY-3 year that both incorporate direct attending collaboration/observation for your intakes, and also weekly supervision, with just one or two other residents to review your cases.  I was worried about the rumors I heard that CHA is “weak on pharm” but I got terrific first-hand experience and teaching through my clinics and rotations at CHA and throughout the Harvard system, for example in a Consult-Liaison clinic at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and in my PGY-4 year at the Harvard University Health Service for students.  I also learned that CHA graduates regularly reported feeling better-trained than most of their colleagues in terms of their psychopharm knowledge.  Also, the psychotherapy training is phenomenal here, and I stayed on at CHA for a psychotherapy fellowship because of this. By the time you graduate, you feel like you’ve been exposed to everything, and know how to handle just about anything (or at least know where to turn to for help)!

- Elisa Cheng, former CHA resident, now an attending in the CHA Outpatient Psychiatry Department
  M.D., Harvard Medical School

How responsive are the directors to resident concerns?

Extremely responsive. The directors established an "open-door" policy during orientation, and this has continued throughout the year. They meet regularly with all PGY years to hear concerns and discuss solutions. Each director is also available for individual meetings, and we even have their cell phone numbers to reach them in case of emergencies. Both directors and the program coordinator are also extremely proactive about looking out for our interests, and advocate for us any time a concern comes up about scheduling, case load, etc. We provide constant feedback over different portions of the residency, from didactics to moonlighting schedules, and the integration of our solutions has allowed the program to constantly evolve for the better. And this makes for much happier residents!

- Tauheed Zaman, recent graduate
  M.D., Tufts Medical School

What is call like? Can you describe your paid Back Up Call?

Call can be very busy but is an incredible learning experience.  As the on-call resident, you are responsible for our psychiatric emergency services, consults from the medical floors, and coverage of the child and adult inpatient units. You always have back-up available in the form of a Senior On-Call and the paid Back Up Call pool (formerly known as the moonlighting pool) to help when volumes are high. During Back Up Call, you help fill in overnight on any cases that the primary resident on-call is too busy to cover, so responsibilities can be similar to those of the on-call resident. Back Up Call is voluntary and can be done from the PGY-2 year onward, after initial on-call training and approval from program leadership.

- Amber Frank, former CHA resident
  M.D., Harvard Medical School

(Click here for more information about call.)

What do you think are the strengths of CHA?  Its weaknesses?

I think CHA's strengths are its commitment to the underserved and community medicine, as well as its wonderful and dedicated physicians, nurses, social workers and staff.  I think that I would say both a strength and weakness of the program is the lack of structure around academic opportunities.  If you are someone who works well without structure and is good at establishing connections and plans, then you will bask in the freedoms of this system.  But if you need clearer directives and structure around this then it might not be the place for you.  

- Katie Kessler, former CHA resident
  D.O., University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine

More than anything else, especially from talking to my friends at other psychiatry programs, all programs have strengths and weaknesses, and the difference is if residents are honest about it when asked by applicants. People are very direct about strengths and weaknesses here, and I found that refreshing!  What really stands out for me are the people at this organization, in all positions, that are so passionate about caring for our primary patient population, which is often one with limited access to care or is stigmatized in some way from a traditional healthcare system. I am proud to be surrounded by such incredible individuals. Some of the didactics could be revised based upon feedback that has been given about the subject matter and/or teaching style.  I would also say that if someone wanted to do bench research, we don’t have wet labs for that purpose, but with some planning, access to other parts of the Harvard system would be possible.”

- Jeffrey Eisen, former CHA resident
  M.D., University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine