Neuroscience and Behavior may be a required course for UB medical students, but it’s also music to their ears — literally.
At the beginning of each psychiatry lecture, students listen to a song that alludes to the mental illness being discussed in class that day.
Before learning about psychotic illness, for example, they listen to the haunting descriptions of its symptoms found in the lyrics to Pink Floyd's “Brain Damage.” A discussion follows on the influential English band — particularly founding member Syd Barrett’s struggles with schizophrenia.
For the musical prelude to their instruction, students can thank alumnus Sergio Hernandez, MD.
“Songs don’t replace a lecture on psychiatry, but they change the level of discussion,” Hernandez said. “So many students engage in a dialogue based on the music. It creates a connection and camaraderie between students and faculty that progresses from there.”
In addition to developing playlists for psychiatry lectures, Hernandez — who was a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry for a number of years — enhanced the departmental curriculum in numerous other ways. He appreciated his colleagues’ receptivity to these initiatives, a factor that contributed to his decision to join UB’s faculty after training in residency at UB.
“I tell residents or medical students who are contemplating whether or not to stay at UB that I feel very fortunate to have my ideas supported by the psychiatry department,” he said.
“You’re allowed to develop your own interests. You’re not pressured to fit into a particular mold.”
Departmental faculty encouraged Hernandez’ interest in psychiatry, and medical education, since he was a UB medical student. (Hernandez graduated from UB’s medical education program in 2006.)
After excelling in the Neuroscience and Behavior course, he was invited to serve as its teaching assistant. In that capacity, he revised the two-hour lecture on drug abuse and presented it to his peers.
“That early exposure to teaching solidified my need to be in an academic setting,” he recalled.
His third-year rotation in psychiatry cemented Hernandez’ decision to continue training at UB.
“The residents I saw during that rotation were all very satisfied in their jobs, and the psychiatry faculty were very personable and approachable,” Hernandez said.
“Because of those factors, and my desire to stay in a supportive academic community, I didn’t look anywhere else for residency.”
Hernandez’ psychiatry residency offered him the best of both worlds: a training ground where he could refine his clinical skills while developing his talents as a teacher.
“I was strongly encouraged to follow my interest in medical student education, and I had a lot of protected time to pursue it,” he recalled.
To that end, Hernandez’ mentor invited him to attend conferences in the field, where he connected with medical educators from around the country.
He was coached in the finer points of preparing papers for national presentations and publication.
As chief resident, he contributed to the curriculum of the medical educator track available to UB psychiatry residents.
“I don’t think I could have done any of these things if I weren’t in a supportive environment — particularly early on in training, when it’s so easy to get off track because of other responsibilities,” he said.
“If I had met opposition — or just not been encouraged — it would have been really easy to end up on a different path.”
From medical student to chief resident to a (now former) faculty member, Hernandez benefited from the spectrum of mentorship available in UB’s psychiatry department.
“I have never felt like I’m out in the wind, trying to figure things out by myself,” he said. “If I ever come across a situation where I need help or advice — clinically or otherwise — it’s very easy to get.”
“Some universities have a reputation for burning out junior faculty,” Hernandez added, “and some have a reputation for helping them develop into senior faculty.”
“UB definitely falls into the latter category.”