Psychiatry and COVID-19: Q&A with Dr. Mollie R. Gordon

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Editor’s note: This blog post is part of an ongoing Progress Notes series featuring individuals who work in clinical psychiatry. In the following interview, third-year medical student Jessica C. Sheu interviews Dr. Mollie R. Gordon.

Dr. Mollie R. Gordon is an associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. She serves as associate director for the inpatient acute mental health unit at Ben Taub General Hospital, and co-director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Program. She is also the co-chair for the American Medical Women’s Association Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans.

As the attending of my first clinical rotation, Dr. Gordon immediately sparked my interest in psychiatry, from the utmost compassion shown with her patients to her dedication to research and teaching. She has been an amazing mentor, inspiration and role model.

In the following interview, Dr. Gordon reflects on her career in psychiatry and shares advice on how to get through hard times.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue psychiatry?
A: Easy question! It is the most interesting field of medicine. I like people stories, learning about the interface of mental health and physical health and coming up with interdisciplinary solutions to people’s wellness.

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Dr. Mollie R. Gordon

Q: What field of psychiatry are you currently focused on?
A: My research background in medical school and residency was in trauma. I did a lot of work in focus groups of the 9/11 survivors. I’m interested in the impact that humans have on each other, such as terrorism, torture, human rights violations and mistreatment. A lot of the patients that we see at Ben Taub have a history of trauma.

More recently, we have been focusing on patients who have been victims of trafficking. My work focuses on adult survivors of human rights violations.

Q: What advice would you give to medical students who are interested in psychiatry?
A: Keep an open mind. When you’re interested in psychiatry, a lot of things can be fascinating. Make sure that you get exposure to adults and children and all forms of illnesses. Take advantage of opportunities to work with a consultation-liaison service, in-patient, out-patient, urgent care and emergent care to make sure you broaden your exposure to the field.

Find an area of interest and explore it further. Learn from a mentor who is passionate about what you’re interested in when it comes to things like academic work, research opportunities and advocacies. Try to find an upper-level medical student who is interested in the field and connect with them. Connect to student groups – the American Psychiatric Association, the American Neuropsychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry all have a lot of opportunities. Make sure you study a lot and know your basics, and read, read, read, read; this is always the right answer.

Q: What is the role of psychiatrists on a mental healthcare team?
A: We are part of a large team of mental healthcare professionals who approach wellness holistically. We work closely with psychologists, social workers, case managers, nurses, occupational therapists, drug/alcohol counselors, chaplains and medical and surgical faculty and consultants.

The role of the psych is to integrate these providers to come up with a formidable plan that brings the best out of patients. We work not only with faculty but also their trainees. It is a nice opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team.

Q: In light of COVID-19 and current social issues, what are some ways that psychiatry has changed? How are you personally coping?
A: Some of the things that we’ve seen with our patients are access to healthcare issues. Patients may not be able to see their doctors, get medications or have the social support that can help them do so because of the isolation. We are seeing the impacts of a higher level of stress in people who are already dealing with severe and chronic mental illness.

We have been creative in making sure that access hasn’t been impaired with tools like telehealth. For our trafficked populations and those who have had significant trauma, telehealth has been an opportunity to improve compliance with appointments, which was something that we weren’t expecting – it is wonderful.

Personally, I have been spending a lot of time with my kids and doing a lot of things as a family, which has really helped with stress. I’ve been doing bike rides, lots of exercise, walks, crafting and reading. We are making sure that we take care of ourselves so we can take care of our patients. All of the things that we have an opportunity to do during COVID – sleep, exercise, family games, family time, crafting – are actually things that are good for us anyway.

Q: What advice would you give to others going through hard times?
A: I would continue to encourage people to do things that are good for them – sleep, hydration, exercise and some sort of social connectiveness. Get on the phone with old friends that you haven’t talked to in a long time. Have Zoom dates. Text your friends. Set goals – especially if you’re isolated in this space. Try to create a sense of structure in a day where everything may seem unstructured in the world.

– By Jessica C. Sheu, third-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine

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