Psychiatry residency program helps meet community’s behavioral health needs

When Sana Sharma, M.D., interviewed to be one of Christiana Care Health System’s first psychiatry residents, she felt instantly at home.

“I knew that this was my program,” she said.

Dr. Sharma, who is from Amritsar, India, liked the staff and the location of the program in Wilmington, Delaware, which is just outside of Philadelphia. It’s convenient to airports, interstates and train stations.

But she particularly liked the accessible, approachable faculty and the high faculty-to-residents ratio. “They’re trained in different settings and have different backgrounds,” she said of her instructors. “They bring excellent experiences to their residents.”

Dr. Sharma and three other doctors started the four-year psychiatry residency in July 2018. The new program, which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, meets a pressing need.

Linda J. Lang, M.D.
Linda J. Lang, M.D.

“The demand for services — both in Delaware and across the United States — far exceeds the supply of psychiatry physicians, particularly given the rise in addiction and the aging population,” said Linda J. Lang, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and medical director of the Behavioral Health Service Line at Christiana Care Health System.

According to a 2017 report published by the National Council for Behavioral Health, there is a 6.4 percent shortage in the psychiatry workforce. Based on estimates of retirement and new entries into the workforce, the unmet need could soar to 12 percent by 2025.

“Given the need and our expanding psychiatric service line, we felt it was time to add a psychiatry residency to our curriculum,” Dr. Lang said. “Christiana Care has an excellent background in training medical residents, and we have a distinguished faculty on board.”

Psychiatry Residency Program Director Cristinel Coconcea, M.D. (center), huddles with residents Dr. Sharma, Dr. Bejenaru and other Psych team members in the atrium at Wilmington Hospital.

Cristinel Coconcea, M.D., the training director of the psychiatry residency program, leveraged Christiana Care’s vast resources when designing the curriculum. All but one of the rotations take place within the health care system. To gain experience in child and adolescent psychiatry, residents will spend two months at Rockford Center, a private psychiatric facility that serves children and adolescents, as well as adults.

The psychiatry residents spend the first two years focusing on inpatient settings. Christiana Care has an acute-care program providing diagnostic evaluations and short-term treatment.

During the second year, they will gain experience in outpatient psychiatry, which becomes more intensive in the third and fourth years. Residents take electives in their fourth year to get more training in areas that need well-trained specialists, such as addiction psychiatry, community and geriatric psychiatry.

Dr. Coconcea is pleased with the caliber of the first-year residents. “They’ve been involved in clinical research, and they come with an excellent background,” he said.

The program will take four new residents each year for a total of 16 in the program.

“The experience thus far has been amazing,” Dr. Sharma said. “It’s just been a month, but my knowledge has increased so much. I am so excited to continue my training and journey at Christiana Care.”

In addition to this new program, Christiana Care has 15 other residencies with more than 260 residents and fellows. Christiana Care has more than 100 years of experience in post-graduate medical education.