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Mentor Program Solidifies Student’s Career Choice as Psychiatrist

Tuesday, October 25, 2016  
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Shannon Friedbacher, a third year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, knows that psychiatry is the field of medicine she will pursue after graduation. Part of her decision rests with the mentoring she has received from James Rutherford, MD, a community psychiatrist working with the Waukesha County Mental Health Department. The two were paired about a year ago through the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association’s Psych Mentor Program.

“Without a doubt, Doctor Rutherford has played a role in my decision to pursue a career in psychiatry, and to apply for psychiatric residency training,” says Friedbacher. “With the experience I’ve gained working alongside him, I know I too can really made a difference by serving patients in Wisconsin in need of mental healthcare.”

Shannon has been a resident of the greater Milwaukee community her entire life. Not only is she now more certain than ever about her decision to become a psychiatrist, but she is deeply committed to serving the psychiatric needs right here at home. The WPA mentor program has reinforced her desire to continue to train in Wisconsin and then to practice as a psychiatrist and serve the people of Wisconsin for the long haul.

The mentor program was designed to provide medical students with an opportunity to experience the specialty of psychiatry that they may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience in medical school.

Shannon admits that while she has been fortunate to have great faculty preceptors and instructors, being paired with community psychiatrists not affiliated with medical school offers her a different perspective and a new dynamic. “With faculty, there is always a need to be on guard,” she says. “But that’s not the case in the mentor program.”

Doctor Rutherford concurs. “The nebulous nature of what the life of a psychiatrist might be like is diminished through this program. Students learn not only about patient care outside of the academic setting, but also have an opportunity to really get to know their mentors,” he said.

Shannon didn’t always know she wanted to go into psychiatry. However, she realized early on that she wanted to attend medical school, despite taking the nontraditional path of starting out in manufacturing sales career. Now in medical school, she is being introduced to many different medical specialties through her rotations, but the exposure to any one specialty is limited. Programs like the WPA Mentor Program offer students with a much deeper understanding of a specialty, in this case psychiatry.

Working in the community setting highlights the prevalence of mental health issues in society. Primary care providers including family physicians and pediatricians are increasingly faced with managing not just the physical, but the mental health of their patients. Doctor Rutherford stresses that responsible integration of care with psychiatrists is important.

In his role with Waukesha County, Doctor Rutherford has seen steps being taken to enhance integrated care for the benefit of patients. One example is the County’s implementation of a new crisis intervention program to meet an increased need for services. He praised Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow for being a friend of mental health. “He understands the concerns, the issues and the needs of patients suffering from mental illness,” says Rutherford.

In her time shadowing Dr. Rutherford, Shannon has witnessed the commitment of local government to mental health, and by seeing that support system within the community is another clear sign that psychiatry is the right career for her. “Psychiatry excites me,” she says. “It is a specialty that provides me the high probability of an interesting and stimulating career, not to mention career longevity.”

Shannon states that she has thoroughly enjoyed her time working alongside Doctor Rutherford, and is grateful for the exposure to the field of psychiatry that the mentor program has offered.  “I look forward to a day when I can pay it forward and serve as a WPA mentor myself.”

 


 

The Wisconsin Psychiatric Association (WPA), a district branch of the American Psychiatric Association, is a statewide medical specialty organization whose more than 400 physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. WPA works to protect the psychiatric profession and mental health patients in Wisconsin through advocacy, physician engagement, education and career development.  Visit the WPA website (link) learn more about this program and the Wisconsin Psychiatic Association.


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