Sept. 8, 2020 — When Anuja Mehta, M.D. ’11, searches for the perfect words of wisdom to offer the residents and medical students she teaches at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, she has a deep well of experience to pull from. She remembers her time as a UF medical student and later the outpatient chief resident in general psychiatry at UF Health Shands Hospital, days and nights that left an indelible mark.
“The UF College of Medicine has a reputation as a tough school that produces stellar physicians,” Mehta says. “I learned to strive for excellence no matter what I’m doing. I draw from my experiences there when I mentor medical students and residents, making sure I tell them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
At the UF College of Medicine, Mehta learned lessons in both science and life from mentors like anatomy professor Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., whose time-honored advice to “stroke, stroke, kick, kick around each buoy of life” resonates in the minds of scores of current and former UF medical students.
As the director of the UCF College of Medicine General Psychiatry Residency Program, Mehta intersperses some of Rarey’s gems into her instruction on topics like mood disorders and pediatric and adolescent mental health. She also attends conferences and sits on national committees — including the curriculum committee for the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training — focused on improving curriculum and training for residents.
“I enjoy using different teaching modalities that are more engaging, fun and immersive, allowing students to be actively problem-solving and thinking instead of being passive recipients of the material,” she says.
In addition to teaching, Mehta’s responsibilities as a residency program director include interviewing and recruiting the new class, ensuring residents are reaching milestones and competencies, conducting one-on-one clinical supervision and handling administrative work like setting up clinical rotations. It’s a workload that can make free time feel elusive, but Mehta keeps her head above water by remaining strategic, prioritizing tasks and turning to mentors for help when needed.
Student and resident wellness is a topic close to Mehta’s heart, and she believes wellness programming at the institutional level — like providing residents with administrative support and creating a collaborative learning environment — is just as valuable to the medical training experience as individual wellness practices like meditation or yoga. As September is National Suicide Prevention Month, Mehta offers insight into best practices for helping a classmate, co-worker or loved one who may be struggling.
“Anybody can experience suicidal ideation in the kind of climate we are living in with racial disparities and COVID-19,” she says. “You could never know that there’s someone near you who is performing very well but struggling. There are some clues, though. Their conversation may have a flavor of hopelessness. There’s this misconception that if you bring up the word suicide, it will encourage people to do that. Bringing up the topic could actually give someone the permission they felt they needed to speak to someone about their feelings.”