Public Psychiatry Fellowship: A year in review

DWIGHT HALL - In the 2018-19 academic year, Dwight Hall at Yale introduced the Public Psychiatry Fellows program in partnership with the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC). The program is designed for undergraduate students, a group that often lacks exposure to the field of community mental health services. Eight students joined the inaugural cohort this year.

Founded in 1966, the CMHC is one of the oldest community mental health centers in the United States. The center was made possible by a partnership between the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services and the Yale University Department of Psychiatry. The Public Psychiatry Fellowship is also the first type of program to expose undergraduate students at the CMHC. 

“The Dwight Hall program allows us to include undergraduates in the very important work of providing the highest quality healthcare to the citizens of New Haven,” Dr. Michael Sernyak, CEO of the CMHC, wrote. “In this program, we hope to introduce the leaders of tomorrow to the real world challenges of providing healthcare in a very complex social environment.”

The CMHC provides services for more than 5,000 people in the Greater New Haven area each year. It also advances scientific research and treatment practices in mental health and substance abuse recovery. In order to conduct and facilitate research and community development, the CMHC Foundation secures and manages charitable resources that advance the Center’s commitment to care, research, and education.

In its pilot year, Fellows were encouraged to be present at the building, such as grabbing lunch in the community cafeteria and getting to know patients, while also developing a “core activity.” Core activities require several hours of involvement each week and supervised by a community mental health professional. Activities range from hosting computer tutoring sessions, assisting in clinical psychology research, and attending support clinics on a regular basis. Students begin the year with thorough training and orientation sessions learning how to professionally navigate facilities and pursue core activities.

“I’m currently working with an outpatient group called, “Hearing Voices Network” and an archival project,” junior Lexi Hopkins said. “With Hearing Voices Network, I’m able to work with clients as they detail their journey in managing their voices, through a validating and discussion based process. For my archival project, I am archiving and cataloging documents from the CMHC’s opening until now.”

Fellows are also asked to spend time each week reflecting on their experience. Reflection pieces are read by program leadership: Kyle Pedersen, Director of CMHC Foundation, Mark Fopeano, Program Manager for Dwight Hall, and Lexi Hopkins ‘20, Student Coordinator and Fellow.

“Public health opportunities can be hard to find for undergraduates,” says Mark Fopeano, “so when I heard that Peter [Crumlish, Executive Director and General Secretary] and Kyle were interested in creating a program for undergraduates, we pretty much leapt at the opportunity. Not that we’re a year in and know that the model works, we are more excited than ever to have a partner like Kyle and CMHC.”

Fopeano said a long term objective of the program is to learn how this type of fellowship affects students long term.

In the following years, Fopeano said a long term objective of the fellowship is to expose students to future career opportunities in community mental health initiatives and practices at the CMHC.

“We’re really interested to see how this small bit of exposure shapes future choices of students, regardless of what career they might choose,” Fopeano spoke. “I really think that with continued success, we may seek other opportunities that follow a similar model.”

This upcoming fall, the Public Psychiatry Fellowship will be renamed to, “Community Mental Health Fellowship.” that more broadly reflects the program’s objectives and field of practice.

For more information about to program, contact Mark Fopeano.

For more stories, check out the Voices and Stories Archive page.