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Psychiatrist Follows Her Own Path to Good Medicine

Dr. Laurie Vitagliano
Dr. Laurie Vitagliano

Dr. Laurie Vitagliano did not take the traditional path to becoming a psychiatrist. She had degrees in business administration and social work and had been a clinical social worker at Queens Hospital Center when she decided she wanted to delve more deeply into the medical aspects of patient care to be able to do more for her patients. She started seriously considering going to medical school, but something held her back.

“I thought I was too old,” she said recently. “I thought, by the time I finish med school I’ll be 30-something.” But her grandmother sent her a newspaper clipping from Dear Abby about a reader in a similar dilemma and told her, “ ‘You’ll be 30-something either way.’ ” She urged her to follow her dream.

Dr. Vitagliano is glad she listened to her grandmother, and believes her journey has brought her back to the place where she belongs: Queens Hospital Center, where she is Deputy Director of Psychiatry and oversees the day to day clinical, administrative and fiscal operations of the department.

“Dr. Vitagliano’s diverse academic and professional background complements her deep roots in the programs and services at Queens Hospital Center,” said Dr. Martin Maurer, Director of Psychiatry. “She has great skill and expertise in the outpatient treatment of adults with serious and persistent mental illness, and she is a valued member of the hospital’s senior leadership team.”

During this time of austere budgets and healthcare reform, Dr. Vitagliano says her business background has prepared her well for the challenges of change. Her social work and medical backgrounds help her understand the complex relationship between the clinical and social aspects of illness.

“One common scenario I see is a mother of young children, struggling with mental illness and co-morbid medical problems, who has very limited social and financial resources,” Dr. Vitagliano said. “As doctors our priority is treating the illness, but we have to understand that this is not often the patient’s highest priority. Putting food on the table and caring for her children is the priority, even if that means missing her own appointments and not filling prescriptions so that she has money for other things for her kids.

“I think that the combination of my medical training, social work and business training has enabled me to identify these issues early on and work with patients directly and also on a systems level to try to help them come up with a workable, practical plan of care,” she said.

An Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, she teaches medical students at Queens Hospital. In a field buffeted by strong emotions, trauma and an often high volume of patients, she reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between one’s professional and personal life to her colleagues and students.

Dr. Vitagliano and her husband, Kevin McNamara, own a farm in County Clare, Ireland where they spend time with their two sons, ages 6 and 8. “No one knows that I am a farmer’s wife,” she said with a smile. Escaping to the quiet Irish countryside and spending time with family and friends are ways she avoids the burnout so common in the field of psychiatry.

Dr. Vitagliano earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Manhattan College in 1986 and worked as a project coordinator in the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which piqued her interest in patient care. She earned her Masters in Social Work from Hunter College in 1991 and was a clinical social worker at Queens Hospital. She earned her Medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2000. She returned to Queens Hospital in 2007 as Associate Director of the Psychiatry Department and later became Deputy Director.

“The road may not always be direct but you can take many detours and still arrive at the same destination. There is value in the journey,” she said.


July 2012

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