OHSU psychiatrist explores intersections of race, mental health care and advocacy

May 2, 2017

Alisha Moreland-Capuia, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, OHSU School of Medicine, was frank with attendees of a Student National Medical Association event on April 26. When asked if she experiences unconscious micro-aggressions from patients, her response illuminated a wider issue. "Most of the racism I experience is not from patients, it's from colleagues," said Dr. Moreland-Capuia, who is the first African American native Oregonian to become a licensed, board certified psychiatrist.

SNMA event with Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia

Dr. Moreland-Capuia explained that her field – addiction psychiatry – is made up mostly of white men, and "there is this assumption that if you're sitting there silently, it means you don't know anything." Throughout her presentation to the students, which was part of the SNMA's "Provider Perspective" series, Dr. Moreland-Capuia emphasized the importance of speaking up, doing what is right for the patient and maintaining work-life balance.

The SNMA is a national student-led organization that was founded in 1964 as a subdivision of the National Medical Association. For the past 50 years, SNMA has been dedicated to "ensuring medical education services are culturally sensitive as well as increasing the number of minority students entering and completing medical school." Ibrahim Ainab and Monique Hedmann, both M.D. students in the Class of 2020, serve as president and vice president, respectively, of the SNMA student group at OHSU.

Several students wanted to know how Dr. Moreland-Capuia addresses cultural and socioeconomic factors that influence mental health. Having just done a rotation at the Unity Center for Behavioral Health, one attendee asked whether there is a coordinated effort in the community to use trauma-informed care. Dr. Moreland-Capuia said change is underway, explaining that "systems don't change if people don't change, and people don't change if they don't feel something." She listed Trauma Informed Oregon as an example of a statewide collaboration on trauma-informed care, which recognizes the effects of trauma on physical, mental and behavioral health.

Dr. Moreland-Capuia is also executive director of the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which provides culturally-responsive, individualized care. When patients see someone who looks like them, she said, "it is like a breath of fresh air." The Avel Gordly Center offers complimentary training for providers who wish to broaden their awareness of how cultural issues impact patient health.

Students were curious about how to be socially active during medical school. Current social movements, including Black Lives Matter and events like the March for Science, are of great interest but fitting them in to a busy student schedule can be challenging. Dr. Moreland-Capuia encouraged students to always take time for themselves and reminded them that leadership comes in many forms: "We all have the potential from where we sit and where we stand to be involved."

Larger efforts are underway to provide faculty, staff and students professional development to recognize and move beyond personal biases to promote not only diversity but inclusion. Later this month, David Acosta, M.D., chief diversity and inclusion officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, will kick off the Center for Diversity and Inclusion's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lecture Series. There are two opportunities for OHSU faculty, staff and students to attend Dr. Acosta's lecture, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Crossing the Cultural Divide to Talk about Race:"