My second year experiences in the Primary Care Leadership Track taught me that behavior and mental health play a key role in physical health. I remember patients who wanted to quit smoking but were unable to because of untreated depression; and patients whose heart disease wasn’t controlled until we could stop their panic attacks. I was fascinated by the impact that social and psychological can have on health, so I spent my third year exploring this connection further.
My third year lab focused on improving health for people with both chronic medical and psychiatric conditions (a larger part of the primary care population than we might expect, and a group that utilizes primary care services at a very high rate). I worked on a few projects: first, a randomized trial examining whether exercise or an antidepressant could improve heart health in patients with heart disease and anxiety; second, a review looking at the existing treatments for anxiety in patients who have heart disease; and third, a study looking at behavioral, social, and psychological factors that contribute to pain in patients with severe lung disease. I also received a grant from the PCLT to present my research at an annual conference. Through this research I was able to learn more about the connection between mental and physical health, and I decided to pursue psychiatry as my future career!
One of my favorite aspects of third year is the open schedule which allows students to go beyond research and pursue other areas of interest in medicine. In the PCLT, we focus especially on learning about population health and engaging the Durham community for overall health improvement. I spent the fall of my third year learning how to be an effective advocate for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and trauma with the Durham Crisis Response Center, and then worked with assault victims in the Durham county hospitals. I also worked as part of a Schweitzer fellow program that focused on improving the physical health in patients with chronic, severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Often these patients take medications that cause chronic health problems like diabetes, and our goal was to help our patients improve their physical health through healthy food choices and exercise.
The Duke Third year was an amazing opportunity to explore my research interests in-depth and learn how to be an effective community advocate. I’m grateful to PCLT for the amazing opportunities it provided during all four years of medical school!