Kavara Susan Vaughn M.D.
Board Certification: General Psychiatry; Addiction Psychiatry
Medical School:West Virginia University School of Medicine
Residency:West Virginia University Psychiatry Residency; University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship
Faculty Rank: Assistant Professor
Special Clinical/Research Interests:
I primarily work with patients who have co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders (addiction)
Research interests include exercise/physical activity as treatment for substance use disorders as well as research looking at what works to help patients find long-term recovery from substance use disorders
Is there a particular population of students (e.g., ethnicity, spiritual, sexual orientation) that you would particularly like to advise?
I would love to advise any student! I am a Christian. My faith is an integral part of my life, so if a student is particularly interested in having an advisor who shares this, I am open to that.
What does a typical day in the life of a psychiatrist include?
This is difficult to answer on paper as there are so many different clinical settings/specialties in which a psychiatrist can practice, including inpatient work, outpatient work, and even telepsychiatry delivered from a psychiatrist's own home. I have much variety in my clinical work, which includes leading medication management groups for patients being treated with Suboxone, seeing patients with both HIV and mental illness in association with the Positive Clinic at Ruby, and working with outpatients with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders (people from all walks of life, including professionals, homeless patients, patients staying in sober living homes in the state). I am also an attending supervisor for the psychiatry residents in the general psychiatry outpatient clinic and volunteer at Mylan Puskar Health Right.
What is the biggest challenge of being a psychiatrist?
Being at peace with patients making small and slow changes as well as with setbacks . . . patients with mental illness struggle, so it is imperative to stay hopeful, celebrate small changes, and know that as long as a person is still alive, there is hope for a better life. Always remember the importance of your relationship/"therapeutic alliance" with your patients – this cannot be overstated and is powerful because even if your patients are not making many changes and are stuck in a rut at the time, your alliance is always providing them something.
How do you foresee psychiatry changing over the next 20 years?
Growth of telepsychiatry
Treatment becoming more informed by genetic testing, biomarkers, etc -Growth of the peer recovery support industry – persons with mental illness and addiction who are stable in their recovery serving in official helping roles for persons seeking recovery from mental illness and addiction. These peer supporters will not take the place of treatment providers, but will work in tandem with us to help patients.
What advice would you give a student who is considering a psychiatry residency?
Practice listening non-judgmentally to your patients and meeting them where they are. This way of being with patients and communicating with patients is the backbone of all the clinical work you will do, so work on building this skill now. Read the third addition of "Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change" by Miller and Rollnick.
I truly cannot imagine doing anything else with my life. If you are considering psychiatry, reach out to psychiatrists and other mental healthcare providers, ask questions, shadow, really explore it so you can determine if this is the path you want to take because you may love it!