Mentorship, guidance help steer careers

When it comes to careers, they aren’t always a straight line. The professional path can be filled with bumps and curves.

Dr. Toi B. Harris, associate provost for Institutional Diversity and Student Services and interim associate dean for Student Affairs and Diversity at Baylor College of Medicine, said her own professional path didn’t lead directly to academics.

Following her psychiatry residency and clinical fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at Baylor, Harris found herself practicing in a rural community health system. The job blended her commitment to caring for the underserved with her training at Baylor.

“I always maintained my ties to mentors I had at Baylor, even when I practiced in California and in rural Texas,” she said.

When she returned to the Houston area, she tapped into the passion she discovered while she was a resident: teaching.

“I worked with my former mentors at Baylor to establish a rotation for trainees to come out to Texana Center” in counties south of Houston (Matagorda and Fort Bend County) Harris said. “I really remembered how much I missed teaching and the academic environment.”

These mentors encouraged her to seek academic opportunities and she joined Baylor as a faculty member in 2005.

Harris said she recognized a need for something like the American Psychiatric Association’s National Minority Mentors Network to help create mentorship opportunities for students, fellows and junior faculty and connect with people at Baylor and in institutions across the greater Houston region.

Harris, who was an APA Minority Fellow, helped establish the Texas Regional Mental Health Minority Mentor Network in 2007 with the support of Baylor and The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston faculty leaders and trainees.

The overarching goal of the network has been to improve mental health equity by increasing workforce diversity, providing cultural competence education, and creating programming to increase mental health access.

Recently, through the sponsorship of Harris Health System, and with coordination by Baylor’s Ali Asghar-Ali, M.D. and Phuong Nguyen, Ph.D., the network hosted “Career Journey’s: My Big Break,” on April 25, in recognition of Minority Health Month.

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Regional leaders in mental health and diversity shared their career paths at the event including Asim Shah, M.D., Chief of Psychiatry-Harris Health System, Angelic Chaison, Ph.D. Psychologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Vineeth John, M.D., UTHealth’s Psychiatry Residency Program Director.

Network senior mentors Alice Mao, M.D., Matthew Brams, M.D., and John Coverdale, M.D., of Baylor, led small group discussions with trainees and junior faculty designed to provide strategies for academic and career success.

The featured speakers “spoke from the heart in terms of different adversities they had encountered and shared how to foster resilience in the face of set backs,” Harris said. “It resonated. Unexpected turns can work for your benefit in the end and make you an even more resilient practicing professional.”

She said networking events help trainees and junior faculty get outside of their rotations, buildings and institutions and connect with people.

“Regardless of what station you are in, you can learn,” she said. “There are opportunities to connect with people, improve your skills, knowledge base and make the most of where you are.”

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Texas Regional Mental Health Minority Mentor Network

Check out additional resources for Minority Health Month

By Audrey M. Marks

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