Honoring Black History Month: Q&A With Dr. Patrice Malone

In honor of Black History Month, we spoke to Patrice Malone, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, about her work with individuals struggling with psychiatric and substance use disorders, as well as her role as a director of the June Jackson Christmas Program.

Why did you choose medicine?

My interest in medicine began when I was a little girl, in pre-K. One afternoon as my grandparents were preparing for a day of shopping, my grandfather began having chest pain and passed out. Luckily, my aunt was present and performed CPR until EMS arrived. It was confirmed that he had a massive heart attack. In the ICU, he was asked his last wishes and one of them was to allow me to enter the ICU and say goodbye to him. But by the diligent work of his medical providers in the hospital and the love from our family, he made a full recovery and went on to live another decade! It was then that I decided that I wanted to become a doctor and be a part of the healing process for so many families.

What sparked your interest in public psychiatry?

Public psychiatry is such a special space where individuals from the surrounding community can get mental health care they need from talented and dedicated practitioners. As a psychiatrist, I also enjoy the collaborative nature that is innately part of public psychiatry.

You specialize in working with individuals who struggle with psychiatric disorders and/or substance use disorders. What drew you to this area of psychiatry?  

As a first-year medical student at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, my first clinical experience was learning how to gather information for the History of Present Illness. For me, that experience took place at a methadone clinic in the south Bronx. The majority of the patients there were people of color who had experienced trauma and prejudice, yet they were eager to assist me by sharing their life stories. I learned a great lesson from them about medical care and humanism, including that early intervention is paramount in order to stave off illness. Later, I would learn about the multifaceted approach that is taken with psychiatric care and in particular, in treating substance use disorders, which further piqued my interest in this area of medicine.

In 2016, as chief psychiatric resident you proposed the Dr. June Jackson Christmas First Year Medical Student Summer Clinical Fellowship, which you now direct. What are the goals of program, and did how Dr. Christmas inspire the fellowship?

The goals of the Dr. June Jackson Christmas Medical Student Program is to encourage medical students from historically under-represented groups in medicine to choose psychiatry as their specialty. The program allows for students experience the breadth of what a career in psychiatry has to offer, as they are unlikely to have such experiences during their four- or five-week psychiatric clerkship in medical school. In this way, they get a better sense of the different subspecialties that exist in psychiatry that they might not otherwise learn about, as well as the range of professional options as a psychiatrist such as teaching, administrative work, research, and advocacy as well as patient care.

Dr. Christmas was a huge inspiration for the fellowship as she is a pioneer in public psychiatry in founding the Harlem Rehabilitation Center, an innovative community-based psychiatric program, which trained local Harlem residents to assist psychiatric in-patients’ with reentry into society.

When we look at our pipeline of people applying for psychology internships, or psychiatry residencies, are there things we could do differently to reach out to a more diverse pool of candidates?

One of the most important things that we could do to diversify the pipeline in mental health is to start earlier. I find that even some of my colleagues are unaware of the differences between social work, psychology, and psychiatry, not to mention the importance of each of these career paths. We have to work harder to educate individuals earlier on in their academic journey about the mental health field—and get them excited about it!

What does Black History Month evoke for you?

Black History Month evokes a sense of pride, appreciation, and hopefulness for me. This is a period of time when as a country we take the opportunity to reflect on the contributions that Black people have made to this great nation.


faculty profile