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Stanford psychiatrist’s varied pursuits garner her a top ethics prize

LSN_8739Imagine being terrified you might kill yourself. Then imagine driving 300 miles to the nearest city for psychiatric care because you’re even more afraid someone in your town will find out about your depression. Or worse yet, being so afraid of being labeled “crazy” that you don’t seek care at all.

Psychiatrists like Laura Roberts, MD, deal with situations like this frequently. Roberts, who chairs the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has learned not to underestimate the strength, or pervasiveness, of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.

"You can build resources, but stigma is such a strong and visible barrier to care. If we do not work on that issue," we are not able to effectively treat patients, Roberts said.

Battling stigma is just one of Roberts' passions. She is known for her work with vulnerable and often neglected populations. She has conducted extensive research on improving mental health care in isolated rural and tribal communities in New Mexico and Alaska. And she has a long history of championing patients who have been marginalized, including victims of sexual trauma, sex workers, veterans, and elders with dementia.

Roberts is also committed to improving the well-being of her fellow psychiatrists and the health of the field of psychiatry as a whole. But while her scholarly and research interests are varied, they are all united by one common focus: ethics.

Her mentor, Mark Siegler, MD, has known Roberts since she was a medical student at the University of Chicago. "From the beginning of her medical career, her central focus and commitment has been on improving the care and outcomes of her patients," Siegler said. "She is a brilliant patient-centered physician whose scholarly work has improved the care not just of her own patients but of sick and vulnerable patients everywhere."

He was in attendance when Roberts recently received the 2015 MacLean Center Prize in Clinical Ethics and Health Outcomes, the largest prize in clinical ethics, which includes a $50,000 award.

"The prize honors these individuals who teach us about medicine, and about life, as they face great sorrow and injustices with courage and generosity," Roberts said in a release.

The award was given during the Dorothy J. MacLean Fellows Conference on ethics in medicine at the University of Chicago.

Previously: How people with mental illness get left out of medical research studies, "Every life is touched by suicide:" Stanford psychiatrist on the importance of prevention and Starting a new career in academic medicine? Here's a bible for the bedside: The Academic Medicine Handbook
Photo by Bruce Powell

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