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Psychiatry PGY-4: A Day in the Life with Sara Culleton

Image of Sara Culleton, MD, PhD with quote caption "I’m grateful for the department’s flexibility and support in letting me take two months off, and making  up clinical time afterward in the  form of my choosing." Experience as a PGY-4
By: Sara Culleton, MD, PhD

My 4th year of residency has started a bit differently: for the last several weeks, I have been on maternity leave! I’m grateful for the department’s flexibility and support in letting me take two months off, and making up clinical time afterward in the form of my choosing. For now, my days are spent at home with my baby girl, and with my husband and our almost four-year-old son when they’re not at work and preschool. Due to the pandemic, we’ve had very few friends visit, but we are lucky to have my mom nearby to help watch our son. We like walking around our neighborhood and spending time in our backyard, especially to catch fireflies during these summer evenings. I Zoom or Skype with out-of-state friends when I can, and I use my daughter’s naptime to knit (for her, of course!) and read… oh yes, and apply for my permanent medical license. Thankfully, I can use my annual book money from the program to reimburse the myriad fees incurred in this process.

I’ve also used my leave time to prep for the next step in my career: applying for fellowship in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. When I go back to work, I’ll be kicking off a year of rotations among the C-L teams. I’ll start with two months at University Hospital, then Eskenazi, then Methodist, and finally the VA, with electives in inpatient and outpatient Neurology in between. Most of this work will be in person, with proper PPE and social distancing as applicable. My Methodist months will include a proactive C-L month that I designed with my C-L mentors and the Methodist OB/GYN hospitalist, with the goal of gathering data and improving outcomes for patients with peripartum mood disorders. These experiences will prepare me for the clinical demands of C-L fellowship, as well as form a foundation for future research endeavors. As an MD/PhD graduate, I feel that C-L is the best subspecialty in Psychiatry for pursuing the physician-scientist career model!

In addition to the core C-L rotations, I will spend time seeing a patient for psychodynamic psychotherapy either in person or on Zoom, and I will have a half-day each week set aside for my current research project: a case report on a patient with catatonia due to familial behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia. I enjoy educating students and residents, so I will participate in MS3 orientation for the Psychiatry clerkship throughout the year. I am also excited to take over the monthly delirium education lecture for SICU residents, which was created by IU Psychiatry’s first C-L fellow, Dr. Ben Cooley. For my own learning, I have joined a monthly Neuropsychiatric Journal Club hosted by Dr. Paula Trzepacz. The rest of my time will be devoted to general and C-L-specific didactics. (All of these educational endeavors are, of course, virtual.)

The fourth year of residency is much like the fourth year of any course of higher learning: a time to consolidate all the knowledge gained in the first three years, prepare for one’s next steps, and – even in these heavy times we live in – make space for fun and self-care along the way. I don’t want to take anything about this year, personal or professional, for granted. Hopefully, by this time next year, my fellow PGY4s and I will be celebrating graduation together in person! Until then, I’ll be sticking close to my family, donning and doffing lots of PPE, and attending and arranging all sorts of Zoom meetings.