Psychiatrist in Residence: Focus on Lifelong Learning

As an accomplished psychiatrist and educator, Deborah J. Hales, MD has long had her finger on the pulse of issues facing psychiatrists, residents and medical students considering entering the field. In medical school, Hales wanted to become a psychiatrist but a mentor steered her towards pediatrics, so she could be “a real doctor.”  Dr. Hales eventually fought back the stigma and became a psychiatrist.  She has absolutely no regrets.

As former director of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Division of Education and Career Development from 2002 to 2014, Hales has a passion for teaching and a commitment to advancing psychiatry.  Today, she is putting her nearly three decades of experience in psychiatric education to work as PRMS’ “Psychiatrist in Residence,” a new advisory position at PRMS in support of our commitment to psychiatrists and their patients.

Dr. Hales is also Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at George Washington University School of Medicine and maintains a private practice in Washington, DC, where she focuses mostly on dynamic psychotherapy, along with pharmacotherapy to patients with depression, anxiety and relationship issues.  Her non-clinical interests include the destigmatization of psychiatry, recruiting medical students into the field and continuing education and maintenance of certification (MOC).

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Dr. Hales received a BA degree from the University of California, Berkeley and then left California for medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

During medical school, Dr. Hales worked with two pediatricians researching mother-infant attachment. Psychiatry really piqued her interest, but she settled on pediatrics, doing her residency at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx in the late 1970s.  Dr. Hales later completed her psychiatry residency at Stanford University Medical Center in 1988.

“I really should have gone into psychiatry first,” Dr. Hales recalled. “But I was able to switch and have been very happy with that decision.”

From there, Dr. Hales became Director of the Psychiatry Residency Training Program and Director of Professional Education for the San Mateo County Mental Health Services.  Best of all, she was able to continue seeing patients in her private practice – a  positive aspect of the field that she likes to promote;  “Psychiatric practice is so interesting, and as a psychiatrist, you can have more control over your lifestyle than in many other medical specialties”, she said.

In 2014, Dr. Hales was awarded the lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Academic Psychiatry. Among other honors, she is a Distinguished Fellow of the APA and a Fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists.

When Dr. Hales decided go back into private practice, her first step was to contact PRMS for professional liability insurance. The company also began talking to her about how she could help PRMS continue to be an excellent resource for its clients and the behavioral healthcare community. She began her role with PRMS in October 2015.

Dr. Hales notes that PRMS offers a host of “wonderful education programs,” such as a mock malpractice court CME presentation that the company presents nationally. Dr. Hales said she hopes to expand the repository of PRMS programs, particularly relating to clinical education. She plans to also develop educational presentations on topics such as professionalism and ethics for psychiatrists.

PRMS is also sponsoring MOC educational presentations by Dr. Hales to psychiatry residency programs and psychiatric societies and associations throughout the nation.   She discusses the history and importance of MOC, and how to participate in the program.  Her lectures are designed to help psychiatrists understand what the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology requires, how to efficiently complete MOC requirements and ultimately how to improve one’s clinical practice. Most ABPN Board Certified psychiatrists must complete the MOC requirements, but many are confused about it.

“It is a big change for many doctors and a number of them aren’t happy.  However, reviewing one’s practice helps the physician stay current.  Over 40 years of practice, standards of care often change.  What is needed are simple and effective means to complete the requirements.  In fact, many psychiatrists who used APA’s MOC tools wrote to us, saying that they discovered ways to improve their practice that they weren’t aware of before participating in MOC,” Dr. Hales explained.

In October 2015, she addressed the topic for The Greater Long Island Psychiatric Society in Uniondale, N.Y. Several other talks are planned for this year including Louisiana, California and Pennsylvania.

“I like helping people and psychotherapy with my individual patients is rewarding and also it is fascinating to learn about people’s inner lives,” Dr. Hales said. “And I have always loved teaching. The PRMS position is wonderful because I get my creative juices flowing trying to think of ways to get the message across about what makes a good clinical practice.”

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