We’re continuing our monthly HCP Spotlight program to highlight some of our amazing crowd members. This month’s HCP spotlight is Jessi Gold, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Washington University in St. Louis.
Q: What made you go into your selected medical profession?
A: When I went into medical school, I knew that I liked the brain, but I knew that my dad was a psychiatrist and I was not quite ready to follow in his footsteps. I did everything neurology when I first started- neuro interest group, neuro research, but I found myself gravitating towards psychiatry. My research was on the depression in a population of people with neurologic manifestations of HIV, not just the neurology part, and the mentors I was drawn to, who were approachable and human, who had careers that weren’t just “typical,” who took the time to care about who I was as a person, were psychiatrists. When I did my psychiatry rotation, I really was interested in the cases and the people, and the time you got to spend with them. As an anthropologist (I have a masters in anthropology), I have always been fascinated by narrative and the human experience, and psychiatry was the specialty for that. The one where you got to actually sit, and listen, and spend the time playing checkers with the kid who was sad and learn about their upbringing. I also asked myself if I took 100 people with a stroke (the most common thing you could see in neuro) and 100 people with depression, what would I want to see for my lifetime, and I said depression, because even if the “diagnosis” or even the “treatment” was the same, the story was so different for how those symptoms came about and that in itself was so fascinating. Psychiatrists were also the only group that didn’t want me to force myself into a bucket and fit a circle into a square- they said “You like writing?” WRITE! “You want to sit and talk about feelings?” “FEEL”….it just didn’t feel like I was walking on eggshells or hiding myself in any way.
Q: What is something you wish you could tell all female psychiatrists who are starting their careers?
A: I think psychiatry is traditionally a good profession for women, honestly, in that you can have a work life balance and make your career in many different ways and still feel fulfilled. As in all academics, I would say it is really important to think about self-care and how to put yourself into the equation. As women, especially, we are caregivers for everyone before ourselves and that only heightened when we are healers. We need to stop, and feel, too. We need to explore how we cope and actually practice what we preach. We need to go to therapy, because the stuff we hear people have typically never told anyone and we need an outlet for that–and that is normal, and ok, and should be what we all do. I am grateful for that balance in my life and I would say it over and over again.
Q: Do you think the US is prepared to handle a second COVID-19 outbreak later this year?
A: You know, as a mental health professional, everything is going on physically is having ripple effects on our mental health. I see it in healthcare workers who are trying to save people from a disease we don’t have a treatment for, with some cases that could have been prevented, in many cases without the right protective gear. I see it in my patients who social distanced but are now sick of it and just want to go outside but can’t because the rates are increasing and they have chronic conditions or are older and wary of getting infected. I see it in everyone who is facing such grief- the loss of life, the loss of school, the loss of jobs, and the loss of a way of life- and all of that has effected us physically, but also mentally- and we will see that today, tomorrow, and probably for years to come. I don’t think we are better prepared, because I think we haven’t changed much and the people fighting are burning a candle at all ends and are really really tired.
Q. We see many healthcare professionals joining the current protest against injustice in America. Can you share how this movement has affected you as a healthcare professional?
A: Racism is pervasive in healthcare- from the disproportionate numbers of Black patients who are dying from COVID-19, to maternal mortality rates, to the pipeline and retention and promotion, to the lived experience of our Black colleagues in medicine. Prior to COVID-19, I was not blind to it, but I was not as outwardly vocal, in part because I felt I was not knowledgeable enough and would make a mistake. But, after George Floyd was murdered and in talking with a few of my Black friends in medicine, I sat with that and the fact that I have both a privilege of a platform and in my skin. I now know that being able not to speak and protect myself from those mistakes was also in itself a privilege. I can’t and won’t do that anymore.
Silence is not an option. I will speak out for my Black patients for whom racism affects their mental health every single day, and watching the murders repeat themselves on TV has only made it worse. I will speak out for the 3% Black psychiatrists who need support to stay in the field, but also need a more robust pipeline into it. I have also seen my friends leave medicine due to the inherent structural inequities that exist and not be able to sustain the minority tax on them. These are some of the best and brightest people I have ever met in my life. I have been heartbroken for us, for the field, but I have always understood and been proud that they made choices for them. But, I probably didn’t speak up enough for them in public spaces, or others like them who I have seen be marginalized in medicine. I will speak up for them to be paid and promoted and supported, and valued. I also will consciously keep trying to not just use my platform to educate, but to pass the mic, highlight others, and elevate the voices who should be telling the stories and make sure the stories get heard. This movement motivated me to be better and do better, as a physician, colleague, and friend, because Black Lives Matter.