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
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
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
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. ▪