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NMCCL Stories

News | May 23, 2023

New psychiatry residency partnership aims to bolster mental health care for military, civilians in Eastern North Carolina

By Riley Eversull

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune will be a part of increasing access to psychiatric care in Eastern North Carolina through a new residency program. NMCCL has joined Novant Health, along with UNC Health and the UNC School of Medicine, to found the Psychiatry Residency Program.

The program’s establishment was formally announced during a presentation at Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Wilmington on May 22, 2023. Representatives from each health care agency were present to speak about their facility’s involvement with the project.

“Deployments, frequent separations, frequent moves, being apart from loved ones, and being in austere environments…that separation really creates challenges that contribute to stressors [for military] that result in traditional medical problems and mental health-type issues,” said U.S. Navy Captain Kevin Brown, director for NMCCL. “This residency allows us to push forward resources globally in a manner where we are able to serve both those folks in uniform and then, also, the families that serve by their sides.”

The Psychiatry Residency Program, which received accreditation earlier this year, will be a four-year academic endeavor, graduating board-eligible residents in the field of psychiatry. As part of the program, military, and civilian residents at NMCCL and Novant Health will complete clinical rotations at each other’s inpatient facilities as well as outpatient required sites.

The program has been two years in development. NMCCL’s Lieutenant Commander Devon Johnston will serve as the assistant program director and military director, overseeing curriculum development and ensuring active-duty residents meet military requirements.

“Both NMCCL and Novant had been considering creating a psychiatry residency program in the area but were both running into issues where the sites would struggle to meet specific requirements,” said Johnston. “With this partnership, both sides were able to address their weaknesses while also strengthening the training received by both our military and civilian residents in the area.”

According to Johnston, there has been increased awareness of the need for more mental health providers with both the Navy and Marine Corps increasing the number of mental health billets embedded with their forces.

“By training at NMCCL, military residents will be prepared upon leaving residency to be operational psychiatrists operating within the Navy and Marine Corps worldwide,” said Johnston. “The end goal of the residency is to develop strong psychiatrists and leaders in both military and rural psychiatry to improve access to care in the local community.”

The Psychiatry Residency Programs comes on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Institute of Health reported, “In a 2021 study, nearly half of Americans surveyed reported symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder, and 10% of respondents felt their mental health needs were not being met.” The impact of the pandemic has escalated the need for more mental health physicians in Eastern North Carolina and throughout the state.

“By the fourth year of the program, we will have up to 28 psychiatry residents providing care to the residents of Southeastern North Carolina, which is pretty exciting given the shortage we have in mental health providers,” said Dr. Julia Triggs, program director. “The hope is that many, most or all of them will decide to remain in the area after completing their training or their military service…to continue to provide high-quality care that all of the people of our communities and state deserve and really, truly need.”

The program will allow for seven residents each year, three military and four civilians, with the first class of accepted psychiatry residents starting in June 2024. Participants will receive full-scope training to include outpatient and inpatient mental health services, forensic psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and some neurology.

In addition to clinical rotations at NMCCL and Novant Health, military residents will rotate with embedded mental health personnel with the Marine Corps, and civilian residents will rotate with Assertive Community Teams in Wilmington.
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