Faculty conversations: Deb Wagenaar
As the lead clerkship director of the Psychiatry Clerkship program in the colleges of Human Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine, Deb Wagenaar manages the clinical experiences of more than 500 medical students.
Students in both colleges are required to have a four- or eight-week clinical experience in psychiatry at one of many clinical sites across the state.
“Students are assigned a clinical site, and they see patients, learn about diagnoses and get exposure to treatment,” Wagenaar said. “It’s really where the book learning and didactics from the second year come to life.”
The College of Osteopathic Medicine is involved in a significant curricular revision that is starting in 2012. Wagenaar is heavily involved in it.
“My role there is to work on a committee for osteopathic patient care, which is a longitudinal course to help students in doctoring skills — so the art of talking to patients, the art of appropriately examining patients and integrating critical thinking and evidence-based thinking into how students approach patients,” she said.
Wagenaar, an associate professor and geriatric psychiatrist, is also involved in a significant amount of clinical work.
“My real passion is long-term care psychiatry,” she said. “I really like working with older adults in nursing homes where they might not have mental health intervention.”
She works with health care professionals by providing education, normalizing behaviors and trying to figure out what can be done behaviorally or pharmacologically to help a patient. She helps everyone from nursing home staff and custodians to the patients themselves.
Depression and dementia are two of the most common mental health issues that older adults face, Wagenaar said.
“I can’t tell you how many times an older adult would say to me — however old they are — ‘I should be depressed,’” Wagenaar said. “And part of what we try to do is say, ‘Hey, you know, depression is a very treatable condition.’”
The demand for mental health services for older adults is going to grow as baby boomers age, Wagenaar said.
“The cohort that I’m treating now is people that didn’t really have mental health services, or if you had mental health services, it meant you went off to a state hospital in a straitjacket and were never seen again,” she said. “So as baby boomers, who are familiar with psychological services, as we age, I think there’s going to be greater demand and more challenge for our field to provide those services for patients.”