Article by Victoria Pham, D.O.
Soon after finishing call at New York Presbyterian Hospital, I woke up at 2:30am to get to my 6am flight to Toronto, Canada for the 58th American and Canadian Associations of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Joint Annual Meeting. I was particularly excited to attend the "Life Members' Wisdom Clinical Perspectives: Reflections, Wisdom and Hindsight" session. It was moderated by Dr. John Schowalter, Professor Emeritus at Yale University, and it featured the early works of four distinguished child psychiatrists: Drs. Thomas Anders, Theodore Shapiro, Lenore Terr and Cynthia Pfeffer. These speakers reflected on their seminal works, and how these initial publications launched their careers and contributed to the field of psychiatry over time.
The first speaker, Dr. Thomas Anders, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Davis, talked about his early publication, "Sleep and Its Disorders in Infants and Children: A Review" (Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1972). By using polygraphic study, he described the normal and abnormal developmental sleep patterns from birth through childhood. From his initial interest in sleep disorders, pediatric sleep research became a lifelong focus and passion, including studies in developmental stages of sleep-wake states and sleep disorders in children with neuro-developmental disorders. With dedication for research and science, his son was one of the subjects of whom he studied. He emphasized the importance of mentorship and of strategically moving his lab from one institution to another in order to continue doing what he loves.
Dr. Theodore Shapiro, Professor Emeritus at Weill Cornell Medical College, spoke next about one of his most important published works, in which he co-authored with his mentor, Dr. Barbara Fish, "A Descriptive Typology of Children's Psychiatric Disorders. I. Its Application to a Controlled Evaluation of Treatment" (Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 1965). This study attempted to develop a clinical classification of psychiatric illnesses in order to make sense of drug responsiveness. From his initial studies in psychopharmacology and psychopathology of children, he became interested in language and developmental issues. He felt mentorship was one of the key components to his success, and both mentee and mentor complemented each other's accomplishment. In his opinion, instead of enforcing too many requirements on trainees, trainees should be given time for professional development and personal career interests.
Then, Dr. Lenore Terr, Clinical Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, talked about how the bus kidnapping event in Chowchilla, California influenced her work. In 1976, twenty-six children and a bus driver of Chowchilla were kidnapped. They were concealed in a van that had been buried below the ground's surface. After 16 hours underground, they found their way to the top and freed themselves. From this incident, Dr. Terr went on to study how childhood trauma affected these children, and it triggered her interested and curiosity in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She went on to write five books surrounding the topics of infantile trauma and memory, and she advocated for laws against child abuse. She emphasized the importance of letting our curiosity to take the lead and to assertively follow our passion.
Finally, Dr. Cynthia Pfeffer, Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, emphasized, "curiosity is a big factor in why people do research," and she followed her own curiosity to study suicidal behavior and bereavement. She published one of her original papers on "Suicidal Behavior in Normal School Children: A Comparison with Child Psychiatric Inpatients" (Journal of American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 1984) to raise community awareness, emphasize the need for prevention, and increase funding to the study of children's suicidal behavior. With her attempt to create awareness for this topic, she went on to write books and travelled to many parts of the world to educate about suicide prevention.
These inspirational life stories reminded me of my own career goals. They awaken creativity and challenged me to take the first step in the direction of my interest. I came to this event in hope to learn clinical wisdom. But as I listened to the talks, their stories prompted me to reflect on my own trajectory and the purpose of my career. As the talk ended, I felt more confident and motivated to execute my dreams.
True to Erik Erickson's 7th stage of psychosocial development, Generativity versus Stagnation, these Life Members strive to enter the Generative phase by creating and nurturing the next generation of psychiatrists through the creation of scholarships for trainees and medical students, and endowment of resources and clinical wisdom through AACAP programs.
Dr. Pham is currently a first-year child fellow at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia and Cornell Universities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated December 2011.