2016-2017 Teaching Awards

Congratulations to the 2016-2017 Award Recipients! 

The Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Excellence in Teaching Awards

The Psychiatry Teaching Awards are presented annually before the Department of Psychiatry’s Grand Rounds. Their purpose is to honor excellence in teaching, supervision, mentoring or related instructional activities in a number of categories. Nominees for each award are selected for their ingenuity, clinical skill, innovation, availability, supportiveness, inspiration, dedication, humanism, patience, respect for diversity, and improvement in the teaching process.



Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching

Christopher Colwell, Ph.D.

Dr. Christopher Colwell is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award. An associate professor writes, “He is extremely patient and encouraging, always available and very happy to share his knowledge and skills with the students and colleagues in a simple manner. His lectures are entertaining and the students are extremely engaged.  By sitting in some of his lectures, I can truly admit that he is extremely successful in conveying difficult concepts to a very diverse audience. His mentoring goes beyond lab projects or techniques, he is genuinely  interested  in  the  success  of  the  students  and  constantly  working  to  ensure  that  they  are,  not only on  track  with  their  class  requirements  and  progress on projects, but  most  importantly  that they  enjoy  the project, and constantly grow scientifically and personally.”

A professor thoughtfully writes, “When I asked  her  how  she  knew  how  to  write  a  grant, she  told  me  she  took  a  course  on grantsmanship offered by the neuroscience program. She told me that it was taught by Dr. Chris Colwell.  On completion of the R03 funding, this student wrote an R21 proposal, which was funded in the first round.  I can only assume that other graduate students have similarly benefited from this and other classes taught by Dr. Colwell”

 Dr. Colwell’s quality of teaching and lasting efforts deserves the this year’s outstanding Graduate Student teaching award.

Outstanding Medical Student Teaching: Harbor - UCLA 

Michael Makhinson, M.D.

Dr. Michael Makjhinson is receiving this year’s Outstanding Medical Student Teaching Award. One colleague confirms Dr. Makhinson’s great teaching by stating “Dr. Makhinson spends considerable amounts of time with the medical students, seeing patients with them, watching them interviewing and modeling interviewing himself.  He involves the students in multidisciplinary team meetings providing them a sense that they, too, are members of the team.  He is available throughout the day for on-the-spot discussions, in addition to the formal time he meets with them.” Followed with statements collected from medical students such as “Dr. Makhinson was the best attending. Before this rotation, I was not even considering psychiatry but it is definitely one of the fields I would consider going into.” And “He is a remarkable teacher and a caring physician, one whose skills I hope to emulate in the future. His guidance solidified my decision to pursue psychiatry residency training, with a particular interest in the Harbor-UCLA psychiatry program.”

For his compassion, dedication, and initiative in mentoring and providing one-on-one supervision to various students, Dr. Michael Makhinson is most deserving of the 2016-2017 Outstanding Medical Student Teaching Award- from Harbor UCLA. 


Outstanding Medical Student Teaching: West LA VA

Dean Sasaki, M.D.

Dr. Dean Sasaki is receiving this year’s Outstanding Medical Student Teaching Award for the West LA VA.  Dr. Sasaki comes highly recommended from previous medical students of his. A medical student confirms by stating, “I reached out to Dr. Sasaki to ask him to be my preceptor on the strength of a personal recommendation from a classmate with extremely high standards who had told me what a wonderful teacher he was during her psychiatry clerkship.” Followed by a heartfelt comment, “Dr. Sasaki truly enriched my learning experience during medical school and has helped shape the clinician I am becoming. I am grateful to him for his help and hope that he will be recognized for his commitment and great generosity to students and patients.”

A colleague in the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine overheard comments such as, “what’s up with Dr. Sasaki” He’s the first attending who has ever sat with me through a whole patient interview, taking notes on me to give me such great feedback right from the beginning.” Another stated,” Dr. Sasaki actually takes time with me to go over patients and clinical learning every single time I work with him. He’s amazing. Can I work with him more?” and “working with attendings like Dr. Sasaki has made me consider a career in psychiatry, which I never would have imagined before.”

His high recommendation and his effective ways of teaching deserves him the 2016-2017 West LA – VA Outstanding Medical Student Teach Award.

Outstanding Undergraduate Student Teaching

Benjamin K.P. Woo, M.D.

With passion and confidence Dr. Woo is able to convince his students to continue learning about psychiatry. “I am grateful to say that in a month, me and a few other undergraduates will be presenting posters at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting in San Diego”. Another student beautifully writes, “A great teacher awakens your intellectual creativity and equips you with tools for expression. Rather than just giving his students answers to their questions, Dr. Woo patiently guides his students to the answer.”

Lastly, “Teachers teach more by what they do than by what they say.  When I was asked in my medical school application about where I would see myself 15 years after graduation, Dr. Woo immediately came to mind. I aspire to become a teacher like him; his enthusiasm and dedication to his students colors everything he does and influences everyone around him”, says one of the countless students whom Dr. Woo had taught and inspire

 For his ability to teach and mentor students of all levels and taking a personal interest in undergraduate’s career trajectory and growth, Dr. Ben Woo is being awarded the 2016-2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Teaching Award.

Outstanding Early-Career Faculty Housestaff Teaching

Tara Peris, Ph.D.

Dr. Tara Peris is receiving this year’s Outstanding Early-Career Faculty Housestaff Teaching Award. A chief fellow writes, “She seems able to effortlessly balance her personal and professional life such that nothing is compromised.  She is an example of a woman in academic psychiatry who does it all, which gives hope to trainees like me. She is able to teach, participate in research resulting in high-impact publications, and serve as a master clinician, all while being an outstanding wife and mother.” Another one writes, “Dr. Peris possesses a wealth of information, whether drawn from research or her own clinical experiences that she shares with trainees with great finesse; simultaneously recognizing their need for continued didactic instruction but conveying information in a manner to credit and expand on their advanced training and knowledge through constructive, critical group discourse. One of the teaching qualities that I most admire in Dr. Peris is her awareness of and approach to providing difficult, sensitive, yet warranted feedback. While other supervisors may shy away from or tangentially approach the issue, Dr. Peris directly addresses these issues with great care and consideration. It is through these challenging moments that the trainees further refine their already high level practice and knowledge and learn firsthand how to supervise their own future trainees.

 With enthusiasm and confidence it is easy to say that Dr. Peris, is deserving of the Outstanding Early-Career Faculty Housestaff Teaching award.     

Outstanding Senior-Faculty Housestaff Teaching

Michael Gitlin, M.D.

Dr. Michael Gitlin is the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Senior-Faculty Housestaff Teaching. A resident explains, “Dr. Gitlin is the best lecturer that I have come across during my four-year residency career. This extends beyond UCLA as I have attended various presentations at national organizational meetings such as at the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Law and Psychiatry, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, to name a few.  He is an incredible asset for the UCLA psychiatry residency program for his lectures alone.”

“Dr. Gitlin has phenomenal expertise in psychopharmacology which he imparts to residents in supervision from discussing special approaches to difficult treatment-refractory cases, alerting residents to special considerations of poly-pharmacy and drug-drug interactions, explaining the most current studies and evidence that would support prescribing a particular medication, and modeling effective and empathic ways of discussing adverse side effects among other topics with patients and their families.  Dr. Gitlin creates a fun and enjoyable educational experience for residents who are working in an extremely demanding outpatient clinic; an experience that has been the highlight of my training experience in clinical psychiatry, which is a credit to Dr. Gitlin’s excellence as a teacher and model psychiatrist.”

 For his passion and commitment to providing outstanding housestaff teaching we are proud to present Dr. Gitlin with the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior-Faculty Housestaff Teaching award.

Outstanding Research Mentor

Erika Nurmi, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Erika Nurmi is the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Research Mentor award. A former mentored student states “I can say without a doubt that she has made a more significant impact on my life than anyone I have encountered in my educational and professional career.” A chief of staff raves about her role and how she impacts the System, he writes, “Dr. Nurmi  has  played  a  pivotal  role  in  developing  the UCLA  Psychiatry  Residency Research Track. Through her efforts to create a supportive research community, the track has dramatically increased recruiting and reduced attrition.”

A research track fellow writes “She is at the heart of the research track and is a strong advocate for the development of clinicians as researchers. She excels at mentoring those who have a strong interest in research but also creates a nurturing environment for those who have less well-defined interests but still have a curiosity in exploring research.” A medical student mentions that “Dr. Nurmi has a firm understanding of how to properly expose undergraduate students to the field of research. She inspired me and the many other undergraduate students in the lab to work as hard as we can on our research projects, despite the difficulties that come with the work, such as when our genotyping plates fail or when we do not get statistically significant results.

 It is due to Dr. Erika Nurmi’s expertise, mentorship, and amazing dedication to fostering the careers of the researchers she takes under her wing, that she deserves the 2016-2017 Outstanding Research Mentor Award.

Outstanding Volunteer Clinical Faculty Teaching 

Victoria Huang, M.D.

Dr. Victoria Huang is receiving this year’s Outstanding Volunteer Clinical Faculty Teaching Award. A colleague explains the amount of times she has admired her teaching, “The qualities she developed as a psychotherapist transformed into empathic supervision. As for formal supervision, Dr. Huang taught the basics of IPT and psychotherapy with Dr. Stoessel at the beginning of the academic year and throughout the year. In addition, she observed individual sessions of residents conducting psychotherapy through a one-way mirror and gave feedback. She was always optimistic about the resident’s style, the patient’s response, and the potential outcome of the psychotherapy. Her suggestions for change in approach or wording of the psychotherapy were conveyed with such a kindness and enthusiasm that even the most rejection-sensitive resident felt supported. 

Dr. Huang has made an impact on everyone, a current resident writes, “Of all the professors I have worked with, she is perhaps the one I’d most like to emulate: caring, sharp, clinically astute, effective, and overall just a warm, friendly spirit who brings joy into the room. It’s not uncommon to hear something like: “That was a great session. It was intense, but you handled it well. How are you feeling?” The attending I always turned to first was Dr. Huang. She was responsive, helpful and empathetic; simultaneously giving me good guidance and also validating my own stress.”


Outstanding Medical Student Volunteer Clinical Faculty Teaching 

Debra Vilinsky, M.D.

A medical student writes, “I really appreciated how Dr. Debra Vilinsky created a thought-provoking learning environment during Doctoring 2. She encouraged us to think about our interviews in a different way by self-reflecting about why we ask certain questions and why we avoid asking other difficult questions. Rather than blindly asking routine questions, this method encourages us to ask ourselves what exactly we want to learn from our chosen questions. This strategy is something I find myself using during my MS3 rotations.”

“An important aspect of Dr. Vilinsky’s interactions with students is her commitment to helping us become better clinicians and communicators through thoughtful critique of our encounters with standardized patients. Her comments were always thought provoking and helped me grow in my approach to taking patient histories and conducting physical exams. I know my classmates also found her feedback to be some of the most valuable and honest assessment they have received as medical students. Dr. Vilinsky’s obvious care for us and our development as physicians and as people made us feel comfortable approaching her for advice. She also recognized our different styles and encouraged us to learn from each other’s strengths. I feel that she put the utmost energy into making the course an invaluable experience for the student’s lucky enough to work with her.”

 Dr. Debra Vilinsky is most deserving of the 2016-2017 Medical Student Volunteer Faculty Award.

Outstanding Teaching Resident: Senior Resident

William Connor Darby, M.D.

Dr. Connor Darby is the recipient of the Outstanding Teaching Resident Award for the UCLA Semel Institute. An intern states, “Given his interest in forensic psychiatry, he provided weekly interactive lectures focusing on forensic psychiatry, a sub-specialty that we would otherwise have minimal exposure to during our first year. Through these didactics and additional discussions during and after rounds, I developed an interest in the sub-specialty of forensics. Dr. Darby’s enthusiasm and dedication to providing additional opportunities to learn outside of rounds, made the rotation an enjoyable experience. It was clear that he cared about the intern class and made sure we were supported during the rotation.”

A director/mentor explains “In all of my years of working with residents, he is the best psychiatry resident that I have ever had the pleasure to supervise and teach. I have supervised many outstanding residents throughout my career – but he is clearly the best and he stands out in his ability to effectively teach medical students, interns and other residents, and even senior, accomplished psychiatrists at national meetings. He is a truly exceptional resident who can teach and describe clearly, even the very complex issues pertinent to my specialty areas of forensic psychiatry and ethics.”


For his commitment to teaching and guidance, Dr. Darby is truly deserving of the 2016-2017 Outstanding Teaching Resident Award.

 Outstanding Teaching Resident: Harbor-UCLA

Riz Ahmad, M.D.

Dr. Riz Ahmad is the recipient of the Outstanding Teaching Resident Award for the Harbor-UCLA psychiatry training program. Dr. Ahmad is described as a professional role model for students, “I have had the opportunity to work closely with Riz on numerous occasions and have also been able to observe him working with medical students. No matter how busy our service was, Riz was always extremely cognizant of how our rotating medical students were doing and if they were having a good learning experience and benefiting from each case the students worked on.  Although he is very dedicated to making sure our rotating students learn a lot, Riz was also great at making sure he respected the students’ time and made sure that students never had to sit around after their work was completed, and he would deliberately discuss teaching points or ensure that they left the hospital at a reasonable time.”

A supervising attending states that “He brings a certain sensitivity to medical students during a time when they are indecisive about their own medical careers. Having gone through a period of time when he didn’t know if he wanted to continue with his anesthesia internship, I’ve seen him mentor several medical students who were struggling with the difficult transitions/decisions that occur during 3rd year of medical school. Medical students gravitate toward him for help and to ask questions because they are not afraid to make mistakes or fill in their gaps in knowledge in front of him. In short, he creates a learning environment where students feel like they are truly part of the treatment team.”

For his initiative and patience in providing teaching, Dr. Riz Ahmad is receiving the 2016-2017 Outstanding Teaching Resident Award from Harbor-UCLA.

 Outstanding Teaching Intern

Juliet Beni Edgcomb, M.D, Ph.D.

A medical student states, “When it comes to talk about Dr. Edgcomb it is hard to find words to express how amazing she is. She was the intern on my team and I had a privilege to work with her for a month. She is a superior role model of compassionate patient care, she goes above and beyond for her patients. Also, she was exemplary when it comes to presenting, note writing and performing physical exam. She is also very compassionate for teaching. I struggled with presentations and she took her time after long ward days to practice with me my presentations for the next day. She challenged me to go above my abilities and supported me as I was growing personally and professionally.

“She is compassionate, insightful, knowledgeable, and a wonderful mentor who frequently stayed overtime and kindly went out of her way to teach and help medical students, even those who were following other patients. This was particularly impressive, as she often took the initiative to offer students genuine and thorough help, which was much appreciated. She frequently provided in-depth and unique constructive feedback and helped students to perfect their oral presentation skills. She was a consistently dependable team-player who had her peers’ and medical students’ best interests at heart. Even though she was an intern in psychiatry doing her neurology rotation, she demonstrated knowledge at the level of her senior neurology residents.”

It is evident that even at such an early time in her career that she is most deserving of the 2016-2017 Teaching Intern Award.