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Association News
Prominent Minority Psychiatrists Say `The Sky's the Limit'
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 22 page 2-28

Finding mentors and like-minded colleagues who share minority psychiatrists' professional goals can help fuel their career trajectories as they assume positions of leadership in psychiatry.

This was the message delivered by three prominent African-American psychiatrists in leadership positions at APA who reflected on their professional journeys at the APA Institute on Psychiatric Services last month in New York.

"I believe the sky is the limit for black women at APA," said Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Office of Minority and National Affairs (OMNA). Although she described herself as an "unlikely leader," she noted that throughout her career, "I never saw myself as having fewer opportunities than a male counterpart."

She acknowledged the pioneering work of Jeanne Spurlock, M.D., a black woman psychiatrist and APA deputy medical director who led the office from its founding in 1974 until 1991. Spurlock died in 1999.

As the head of OMNA, Primm has a lot on her plate—she described her duties as eliminating mental health disparities for people with mental illness, increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the psychiatric workforce, and improving the quality of mental health care for all Americans." I'm responsible for all that is marginalized" within the field of psychiatry, she noted.

Primm also credited current APA leadership—President Pedro Ruiz, M.D., and Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., for instance—for their interest in minority mental health.

In her current role, Primm finds creativity, or "thinking outside of the box," a useful means for conveying the importance of resolving the stubborn problems resulting from mental health disparities.FIG1

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From left: Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., Donna Norris, M.D., and Michelle Clark, M.D., look on as American Psychiatric Foundation President Altha Stewart, M.D., discusses the importance of minority women psychiatrists' finding a network of supportive and like-minded colleagues with whom to work and network. 

Ellen Dallager

She has, for example, taken her message on the road with APA's "OMNA on Tour," in which leaders in minority mental health convene in different places around the country to discuss model programs and their impact on minorities with mental illness in their community.

Networking and collaboration are necessary to achieving success, she emphasized. She also encouraged psychiatrists to mentor minority medical students, psychiatry trainees, and early career psychiatrists.

Altha Stewart, M.D., also recalled the importance of mentorship in her career. Stewart is president of the American Psychiatric Foundation and medical director of the Women's National Basketball Association.

"your rise to leadership is defined not only by your individual competence, but by others' recognition of your talent and their promotion and support of you," she stated.

As a psychiatry resident, Stewart noted that she always had a black supervisor who supported her in her endeavors. In addition, she found an informal support network composed of trainees and mentors who cared about her professional growth and development.

Stewart also emphasized that it was her mentors who knew what she was capable of achieving and pushed her to apply for fellowships and new positions in psychiatry. "These proved to be defining moments in my professional life," she said.

Donna Norris, M.D., APA's secretary-treasurer and a former speaker of the Assembly, advised young minority psychiatrists seeking leadership positions in psychiatry to develop an area of expertise, look for chances to learn and apply new skills, and to "look for positive, motivated, and ethical teammates."

She also shared the sage advice of a supervisor and mentor, who once told her to move forward and take advantage of career opportunities when they arose instead of putting them off into the future.

"I have always kept this advice in mind," she said. ▪

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

From left: Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., Donna Norris, M.D., and Michelle Clark, M.D., look on as American Psychiatric Foundation President Altha Stewart, M.D., discusses the importance of minority women psychiatrists' finding a network of supportive and like-minded colleagues with whom to work and network. 

Ellen Dallager

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