Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is a very special place. Jointly administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, this world famous 500 bed acute general hospital provides a rare combination of academic excellence and the rich patient flow of a major public teaching hospital. The hospital contains distinguished departments and training programs in all major specialties, and the Department of Psychiatry, also supported by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, is in its fifth decade of research, training, and service to patients and their families.

We aim for a mutually respectful departmental climate where patients, their families, psychiatric trainees, and the staff come toward each other in a constructive and helpful manner. In these times of the ever changing landscape of mental health services and dwindling financial resources, we have created a training milieu designed to prepare the young psychiatrist both in terms of needed skills and appropriate attitudes for a successful career. We want to train a scientifically and culturally competent and caring psychiatrist who treats the mind and the brain, and who feels personal responsibility for the health care system in which he or she works. Trainees’ special interests and talents are encouraged and built upon, and from the earliest days of training, residents are encouraged to develop their own research and/or special treatment programs.

The departmental leadership has been stable for many years and, despite difficult financial times, we have not had to decrease the size of our training program. At the same time, however, we realize that the practice of psychiatry and models of training have changed, and we have been actively addressing these changes. We have made major structural changes in the delivery of psychiatric services towards a vertically integrated system where patients have continuity of care and residents, faculty, and staff work in multidisciplinary teams responsible for delivery of care through all phases of illness. This allows trainees to have longitudinal responsibility for patients and provides a more efficient and cost-effective model of service delivery. Our ambulatory training experience begins in the second year of training, allowing up to three years of work with patients and their families.

Among the full range of psychiatric services and training offered, the experience in emergency psychiatry is the match of any in the country. We have a 5,000 square foot, state-of-the-art psychiatric emergency room which allows not only for the humane care of seriously disturbed patients, but also provides a milieu for studies in emergency psychiatry. We see an average of over 8000 individuals per year for emergency assessment. In addition to our own residents, residents from other programs and from other Harbor services rotate through our emergency room. We also have a variety of programs for the treatment of outpatients (an Adult Outpatient Clinic, a Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic, a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Service, a Full Service Partnership, a Field Based Clinical Service and a Wellness Center), all of which aid patients in their path towards recovery.

Our Department of Psychiatry was the site of a National Institute of Mental Health Minority Mental Health Research Unit, the Harbor-UCLA Research Center on the Psychobiology of Ethnicity. It was unique in the nation, as it was the only NIMH center mandated to study patients from multiple ethnic groups from psychobiological as well as cultural perspectives. Although funding for centers of this kind has been discontinued, faculty members continue to have interests in exploring the interface of ethnicity/culture and psychiatric treatment.

Additional research interest include: studies with children who have been victims of childhood trauma; psychopharmacologic studies of depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia; projects involving psychosocial aspects of HIV infection and AIDS; investigations in neuropsychological testing and brain function; outcome studies concerning patients with persistent mental disorders; outcome studies utilizing treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavior therapy; and the medical use of hallucinogenic substances.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, only five miles from some of the most appealing beaches in Southern California. We are about 15 miles from the Los Angeles International Airport, and 30 minutes from the cultural centers in the downtown and West Los Angeles areas. In addition to our hospital, the facilities of the Semel Institute on the campus of UCLA and the West Los Angeles Veterans Hospital are available for elective rotations, as are the vast community resources of the LA County Department of Mental Health.

Ira Lesser, M.D.
Professor & Chair
Department of Psychiatry