Association News
Resident Finds Rewards Atop Capitol Hill
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 7 page 11-11

Few psychiatrists find themselves in a position to directly influence the development and progress of federal legislation that can benefit their profession and the people who need treatment for psychiatric illnesses. PGY-4 psychiatry resident Kahlil Johnson, M.D., however, was one of the fortunate ones who was able to do just that.

Johnson, who was a resident at George Washington University, was APA's 2009 Jeanne Spurlock, M.D., Congressional Fellow, which gives one psychiatry resident each year the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill in the office of a member of the House or Senate or on the staff of a congressional committee that can make or influence mental health policies nationwide.

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Psychiatry resident Kahlil Johnson, M.D. (right), worked with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) on health-related legislation during an APA congressional fellowship. 

Credit: Ashley Wilson, Office of Rep. Towns

Once he was chosen as last year's Spurlock Fellow, Johnson, with the help of APA, arranged a position in the office of Rep. Edolphus Towns, a Democrat representing a district in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he hoped he could apply his interest in public health and in treating underserved mentally ill populations. He said he was "especially interested in the connection between the environment people live in and its impact on their overall mental health," areas in which Towns was also interested, having been a social worker and hospital administrator prior to his election to Congress.

Johnson said that he had frequent opportunities to meet with Towns's constituents and "to weigh in on several key policy initiatives by providing the unique view of a psychiatrist. . . . I found that I had to draw on all of my medical knowledge during the course of the fellowship—psychiatric and otherwise."

Among the issues on which he advised was the American Investment and Recovery Act's health-related provisions and the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, he told Psychiatric News.

Johnson spent the first few months of the fellowship working in Towns's personal office and on health issues under review by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, such as Medicare fraud, H1N1 vaccine production, and "the evaluation process of doctors fulfilling their commitments to the National Health Service Corps." Later he attended meetings on health reform legislation with a variety of groups and then briefed Towns on the positions of these individuals and groups. He also appeared as a guest on Towns's cable-access television show, during which access to health care and the need to ensure that mental health was included in any health reform proposal were discussed.

He said he is especially proud of the work he did "spearheading the addition of health-impact tracking language ... into the Urban, Revitalization and Livable Communities Act of 2009." This bill makes grant funds available for building new parks and recreation spaces, repairing existing ones, and keeping youth off the streets. Grant applicants, he explained, will receive preference if they "track the impact of their recreational space or programs on chronic-disease outcomes" including depression outcomes.

"One of the most valuable things about my fellowship," Johnson said, "was the hands-on experience with the legislative process and meeting people who Americans chose to lead as our representatives in Washington, D.C. I will carry what I have learned with me and share the unique perspective, knowledge, and understanding I have gained with the local psychiatric community."

After completing the fellowship late last year, Johnson began working for Unity Health Care, providing treatment at the District of Columbia jail, fulfilling his goal of working with underserved populations. He said he is slated to become director of psychiatry at the jail later this year.

The fellowship is administered by the American Psychiatric Foundation in conjunction with APA and is supported by an unrestricted education grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. It comes with a $35,000 stipend, which may be supplemented by the fellow's institution. Fellows are also reimbursed up to $2,500 for moving expenses to Washington, D.C.

An application and information about the Jeanne Spurlock Congressional Fellowship and APA's other minority fellowships are posted at <www.psych.org/Resources/OMNA/MFP.aspx>.blacksquare

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Psychiatry resident Kahlil Johnson, M.D. (right), worked with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) on health-related legislation during an APA congressional fellowship. 

Credit: Ashley Wilson, Office of Rep. Towns

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