Medical Student Education in Psychiatry

Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University

Dr. Cutler with assistant Edith White

Dr. Janis Cutler (right), professor of clinical psychiatry, is director of the division, and Edith White (left) is the division administrator.

The Department of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute is responsible for approximately 700 medical students in a psychiatry curriculum at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons that extends throughout the four years of medical school. Dr. Janis Cutler, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, is Director of the division.

Psychiatric Medicine

Psychiatric Medicine is a 60-hour long course given in the second semester of first year. It consists of lectures followed by small group discussion (14 students per group). Students spend one third of the course time in lecture and two thirds in groups. Lectures and group discussions focus on the psychiatric interview, the mental status examination, and major psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and the mood and anxiety disorders. The clinical aspects of these disorders are illustrated with videotaped patient interviews and case material in lectures, and with live patient interviews in the group sessions. Relevant neurobiological material is considered with an emphasis on its application to phenomenology, etiology, and disease course. Treatment modalities are covered as well. Group preceptors are members of the faculty and senior residents. In addition to patient interviews, group sessions are also devoted to a meeting with a volunteer from the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to better understand the experience of psychiatric illness from the family’s perspective and a field trip to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s “Living Museum,” a patient art studio/display space.

Psychiatry Clerkship

The five-week Psychiatry Clerkship encompasses the following sites: CUIMC/Psychiatric Institute, Bronx VA, Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Gracie Square Hospital, and Rockland Psychiatric Center. Clinical work is mainly located on inpatient services. Students follow assigned patients, participating in their daily care, including writing progress notes, with close attending and resident supervision. Clinical work also includes several hours per week in outpatient adult and child psychiatry settings. All students are on-call in the CUIMC psychiatric emergency room. In addition to their clinical assignments, all students participate in six hours per week of seminars that address core topics, including treatment (pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic) and child psychiatry.

JJC Summer Fellowship

The Dr. June Jackson Christmas Medical Student Fellowship offers a chance for medical students who belong to historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to explore a career in psychiatry. The program is hosted by the Psychiatry Department at Columbia University and is a five-week experience for medical students in the summer after completing their first year of medical school.


The department offers a number of electives for senior students, including visiting students from other institutions. Students can choose a purely clinical elective or can have a research experience ranging from a basic science to a clinical setting. Please note that visiting electives are an opportunity for students to learn about our department and are not a formal part of the residency program interview selection process.

Psychiatry Student Interest Group

Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has an active Psychiatry Student Interest Group, which sponsors several events during the academic year. Dr. Cutler is the Faculty Adviser. Every spring the Department of Psychiatry hosts a Welcome Reception for first year medical students during Psychiatric Medicine, providing students with the opportunity to mingle with senior faculty as well as residents. Columbia students are active participants in psychiatry student interest groups on the national level with representatives to the American Psychiatric Association’s PsychSIGN (Psychiatry Student Interest Group Network), attending PsychSIGN activities at the APA’s Annual Meeting as well as specific Region 2 Conferences.