Harvesting Insights: Danielle Clifford, MD's Two-Week Psychiatry Residency Elective
In the field of psychiatry, opportunities for hands-on experiences outside the traditional hospital setting are invaluable, says Danielle Clifford, MD, a psychiatry resident from UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester. Dr. Clifford, or Danielle as she was referred to while at the Farm, recently embarked on a two-week elective experience at Gould Farm, a unique therapeutic community for adults with mental health challenges nestled in the scenic Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. This post delves into Danielle's expectations before arriving, highlights from her time at the Farm, and her insightful reflections on the field of psychiatry.
Expectations and Arrival
Like any adventure into the unknown, Danielle didn't know what to expect as she drove up the wooded road to Gould Farm. Intrigued by the Farm's mission and community-oriented approach, she felt a mix of curiosity and anxiety. Packing up and venturing into a community where she knew no one was a leap of faith, but one that held the promise of personal and professional growth.
Highlights and Transformative Experiences
From the moment Danielle arrived at Gould Farm, she encountered people and experiences that left a lasting impact. One standout moment was during our morning meeting, where she experienced the therapeutic power of music as the community sang the Beatles’ song, "Let it be" together, setting a soothing tone for the day ahead. Another highlight was sharing three meals a day with guests and staff, engaging in meaningful conversations that deepened her understanding of individuals facing mental health challenges.
Danielle's work program time at the Farm was particularly memorable. Instead of being confined to a hospital setting, she found herself in the bakery, kneading dough and learning the art of breadmaking. The guests (individuals receiving treatment at Gould Farm) played a pivotal role in her experience. They not only taught her to milk cows but also provided a glimpse into the multifaceted aspects of mental health treatment outside the hospital walls. Witnessing the reciprocal relationships and strong sense of purpose within the community shed light on the potential for a more holistic approach to mental health care.
Insights and Lessons Learned
Danielle's time at Gould Farm offered her a fresh perspective on the field of psychiatry. In psychiatry residency training, the second year focuses on inpatient care, where patients suffering from acute mental illnesses are treated within the confines of a hospital. While inpatient hospitalizations provide necessary acute care management, Gould Farm presented a longitudinal residential care model, offering a wealth of therapeutic options, spanning a vast expanse of 700 acres. Activities, team-building exercises, and a shared commitment to community improvement created an environment that nurture recovery and growth.
The experience at Gould Farm highlighted the underutilization of nature, exercise, and nutrition as standard aspects of mental health treatment. Danielle recognized the potential for integrating these elements into traditional psychiatric care, emphasizing the importance of an active lifestyle in the recovery process.
Reflections on the Field of Psychiatry
For Danielle, the field of psychiatry holds great promise and excitement. Despite the substantial demand for mental health care in this country, she believes she can make a difference through her work. The emergence of innovative treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and the use of psychedelic treatment modalities, present exciting avenues for exploration. Additionally, understanding how technology can be utilized to increase access to mental health treatment holds powerful potential.
Danielle also acknowledges the existing challenges within the field. The shortage of mental health providers, including psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists, presents a significant obstacle in meeting the growing demand for services. Additionally, the structured clinical model that often prevails limits a psychiatrist's ability to see and treat the whole person within the constraints of limited time. Furthermore, the lack of adequate beds, funding, and insurance coverage exacerbates the difficulties faced by patients seeking mental health care.
Looking ahead, Danielle plans to complete a fellowship in child psychiatry and pursue specialty training in the field of women's mental health as the final steps before finishing residency and becoming a board-certified psychiatrist. Her dream extends beyond personal goals, envisioning a shift in the medical system away from a reactive model towards a prevention model.