The Promise of MacArthur Fellows for Solving Complicated Social Problems


The MacArthur Fellows for this year have been chosen. How is their work contributing to the field of psychiatry?


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After I realized that I had missed the announcement of the CNN Heroes that we covered yesterday, I also realized I missed the announcement on September 28th of another favorite award of mine. These are the annual MacArthur Fellows who receive a $625,000 no-strings-attached grant for showing exceptional creativity. Often those selected are working across multiple disciplines because social problems, such as racism and climate change, are so complicated.

Once again, I homed in on those that connect to psychiatry and found Marcella Alsan, MPH, MD, PhD in public health, medicine, and economics respectively. Combining medicine and economics training is unusual, but perhaps just what we need in focusing on racial disparities in health care. Her recent focus has been on the mistrust of medical institutions experienced by Black men in the USA and how that contributes to poorer health indicators. A research study she did in 2019 verified the benefits of having racially concordant Black physician-patient matches. She is following that up by hypothesizing that non-Black physicians who acknowledge and discuss past injustices with their Black patients can overcome the mistrust.

Although there have been questions of the choices and worth of the Fellows ensuing work, I would hope there would not be such a concern about the psychiatrist chosen in 2007, Jonathan Shay, MD. Also a classicist, he applied stories of Greek mythological warriors to veteran soldiers and came up with the concept of moral injury about the injustices they felt in their mission, which could complicate any psychological trauma. That has not only helped in adjusting their treatment, but is now applied to burnout in physicians, nurses, and others.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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