What made you choose UC Davis?
I’m a born and bred Californian though my education and training took me back east to Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. I followed that up with 18 years in Canada teaching and conducting research in mental health economics and mental health services. But, for me, California has always been home (and those other places are cold!). There are exciting things happening with mental health services in California, and when the opportunity came up here, I knew it was time to come home and contribute to making California a leader in the development of evidence-based mental health systems. The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence are doing important work that can serve as an example to other jurisdictions that seek to improve services to those in need. As a mental health economist, I wanted to be a part of it.
Who or what inspired you to choose this field?
When I was growing up, one of the stories that I found inspiring was about Father Damien, also known as the Man of Molokai, a Belgian priest who ministered to the physical and emotional needs of those in the leper colony on the island. His life story inspired me because it demonstrated his commitment and passion to improving the lives of people who were considered outcasts. He rolled up his sleeves and helped to bring health care, shelter, food and wellbeing to people who were marginalized. Though lacking in formal training, he nonetheless was a public health practitioner. Today, among the most marginalized in our society are those who suffer mental illnesses. By improving the services, systems and understanding, we can improve their lives and the lives of those who support them. That is something in which I believe strongly and which I hope to contribute.
What research are you currently working on? What makes it unique?
I have a number of research projects on the go, but all are focused on services and systems for people experiencing mental health problems. What makes it unique is the approach – I take a public health perspective. Improving and promoting mental health is not simply about treatment, but the many layers of players that contribute to supporting and determining health. My research seeks to understand how to create more effective systems and structures that can provide a sturdy framework in which all players can interact.
If you could impart one piece of advice to our students seeking a specialty area/career path, what would it be?
I think one of the most important things to know is what you value and what you are good at. Career paths don’t usually follow straight roads; there are a lot of surprises along the way. When faced with those detours, it becomes easier to make choices if you understand your fundamental values.
If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?
Right now, if I had to choose one super power, it would be to fly. I didn’t quite remember how daunting the traffic can be!