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Supporting the Future of Psychiatry: Why mentorship can change the future of psychiatry

  • March 20, 2024
Manuel Faria

I once heard psychiatry described as a branch of friendship, not medicine. Among all fields of health care, psychiatry stands out for being deeply relational and warmly intimate. Some of its routine treatments, in fact, work most vitally by strengthening the therapeutic alliance between patient and provider in the depth of the patient’s suffering. This is one of the main reasons why patients benefit from providers who share their identity – racial, gender, or otherwise – because they can establish that therapeutic alliance more readily and energetically.

This therapeutic insight is also an important principle for medical and psychiatric education. Better outcomes, there too, hinge on engaging with educational mentorship that connects diverse students with opportunity, support, and academic alliance. Such relationships take time and labor to cultivate, but very few people get access to long-term mentorship, and thus many are likely to fall through the cracks, to the detriment of those patients.

I have been the benefactor of this kind of mentorship several times in my life, in what is now a journey to become a psychiatrist myself. I am an immigrant from Venezuela, a country that has fallen deep into a humanitarian disaster and the biggest refugee crisis today. I came to Miami without speaking any English, struggling to earn F’s and D’s in my courses, all while relying on my school’s free lunch program. But all it took were a few mentors in community college who believed in me. Because of that, I was able to complete my AA, transfer to Stanford University, and graduate with its most prestigious academic award. Nobody – not even me – would have thought that such a student would be pursuing one of the most academically demanding career paths in America, but I feel a strong calling to care for the mental welfare of those afflicted by violence, suffering, and migration.

Thankfully, APA sees and seeks this kind of perspective and potential with their new incubator program, FLIPP, or Future Leaders in Psychiatry Program. FLIPP has been yet another stepping stone in my life. Inside the program, I got the opportunity to participate in several online lectures dealing with networking, medical admissions, and research, all while being able to connect with Latin and immigrant physicians whose paths I can follow and emulate. All participants were also invited to attend the APA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, a remarkable opportunity that allowed me to explore in-depth psychiatry topics from leaders in the field, all at no cost! But perhaps my favorite experience has been meeting with my FLIPP mentor, Dr. Ravi Chandra. We were matched on the basis of our shared interests and identity, and because of that, our relationship developed seamlessly and organically. I had no other mentors in psychiatry, even as a senior at Stanford, and thus I tremendously benefited from Dr. Chandra’s wisdom and expertise. Besides our mentorship calls, I was also able to shadow Dr. Chandra’s psychotherapy supervision sessions, an eye-opening experience that allowed me to witness the deconstruction of therapy outside the clinician’s room. These kinds of unique insights and experiences were invaluable, and I consider myself lucky for the APA’s effort to incubate a diverse pool of talent with academic experiences of this caliber.

Indeed, I can understand why friendship and relationship-building are so fundamental to the understanding of psychiatry and mental health. Benefiting from mentorship has been a critical turning point in my own self-understanding and desire to make a community-level impact in health care. It has helped me realize my individual potential while I also aim to bolster the next generation of diverse professionals who can help populations heal in community and connection. Today, I cannot think of a more important work of educational leadership than continuing to develop talent incubators – like FLIPP – that can leverage the transformative power of mentorship to create the physician-leaders that patients deserve to see as friends and advocates of their own.

By Manuel Faria, Stanford University

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

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