Jyoti Shah, M.D., president of NAMI-Pennsylvania, tries to ensure that
patients feel satisfied with the psychiatric treatment they receive.
Credit: David Hathcox
As a young girl growing up in northern India, Jyoti Shah, M.D., can recall
her father expressing a desire to see her become a doctor. Today, not only has
she fulfilled that vision, but she has met a goal she set for herself as a
medical school student and later resident at the St. Vincent Medical Center in
New York City: to acknowledge the day-to-day struggles of people with serious
mental illness and make a difference in their lives.
"I have great respect and admiration for my patients," she told
Her sense of duty extends beyond the well-being of individual patients."
As a psychiatrist, I feel I have an obligation to the community at
large," she said, by "educating them about mental health issues
and advocating for certain consumer groups," such as children and
veterans with mental illness.
As president of NAMI-Pennsylvania, Shah serves as an advocate for consumers
at the state level by speaking at legislative hearings. According to NAMI's
public affairs office, Shah is currently the only psychiatrist who is a
president or executive director of one of the organization's state chapters.
She is also immediate past president of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society.
(NAMI's national president is psychiatrist Suzanne Vogel-Scibilia, M.D.)
For the past five years, Shah has been a vocal participant in hearings
related to mental illness and treatment and has helped to shape NAMI's
While chief of the psychiatry service at the VA Medical Center in
Wilkes-Barre, Pa., from 1987 to 1996, Shah participated in strategic planning
meetings within the VA to discuss ways to collaborate with the local NAMI
affiliate, she said.
She is an active participant in NAMI-WALKS, which raises funds for the
organization and takes place in more than 60 U.S. cities, and other"
stigma-busting" events sponsored by NAMI. "These activities
give consumers a strong voice," Shah remarked. "I am so proud to
be on their team."
In addition, she coordinates numerous workshops at NAMI-Pennsylvania's
annual conference. Recently those workshops have addressed mental health
issues pertaining to soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shah's involvement with formal family and consumer education began in 1994,
when she joined Clarks Summit State Hospital in Clarks Summit, Pa., as a
While there, she encountered frustration in patients' family members who
desired to learn more about mental illness and how to help the loved one being
Said Shah, "At times, visiting relatives were told by members of the
treatment team that they couldn't talk about the specifics of treatment"
without compromising patient confidentiality.
To help family members understand their relative's illness and the care
being provided, she began running small weekly groups to educate them about
psychiatric illnesses, medications, and other topics related to mental health.
She also met with consumers to explain the role family plays in recovery and
advised treatment-team members on how to be more responsive to family
After a couple of years, local media outlets found out about the classes
Shah was offering and invited her to participate in the television program"
Call the Doctor," which broadcasts to 22 counties in northeastern
Pennsylvania. Shah, along with other mental health clinicians, answers
questions from television audiences live about mental illness and its
In her other professional roles, Shah steps in to ensure that people with
mental illness are satisfied with their treatment.
For instance, as medical director of Northeast Behavioral Care Consortium,
Shah is responsible for responding to complaints from mental health consumers
under Healthchoices, a managed care program for Medicaid recipients in
When patients aren't happy with the care they receive, Shah provides an
independent assessment and, based on what she learns, may enhance or make
changes in the treatment that they receive.
As assistant chief of psychiatric services at the Children's Service Center
in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Shah provides psychiatric assessments for children as
part of a treatment team. "I love working with children," she
said. She first became involved in treating children and adolescents due to a
shortage of mental health services for them in the community.
She is also a psychiatric consultant to a number of agencies in
Northeastern Pennsylvania and often finds herself stepping in to provide
evaluations in situations in which patients may need a medication adjusted,
for instance, but must wait several weeks to see their regular clinicians.
Joseph DeVizia, executive director of the Luzerne County Office of Human
Services in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., called Shah "one of the finest
psychiatrists with whom I've ever worked." The two worked together when
Shah was chief of psychiatric services and he was director of the Children
Among her talents, DeVizia observed, is the ability to blend clinical
duties seamlessly with administrative leadership. In addition, he noted that
she has superb rapport with patients and families. "She is always
willing to take the time to talk with them about their concerns." He
also noted that Shah is not afraid to meet any challenge, whether clinical or
For Shah, what gives her joy, aside from her family—including a
husband, two sons, and a "beautiful" granddaughter—is the
ability to facilitate her patients' recovery.
"As psychiatrists, we must address each aspect of patients' lives to
ensure that they live up to their potential and enjoy the quality of life that
they deserve," Shah remarked. ▪