Celebrating gives people the energy to press on during difficult times, said Joseph Betancourt, MD, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer, in his introduction to the “Celebration of Unity, Heritage and Mass General Latino/a/x Front Line Staff” event.
The Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital welcomed Maurizio Fava, MD, as the new leader of the department on October 1, 2019. Dr. Fava brings a wealth of experience to the role and has deep roots within the department—he came to Mass General as a resident, then joined the psychiatry staff in 1988.
In this Q&A, he reflects on his outlook as he takes over as chair of the department.
Q: You have had a long, successful career at Mass General. What is it like having such a rich history in the Department of Psychiatry?
A: I had initially trained in endocrinology at the University of Padova School of Medicine in Padova, Italy. I then came to Massachusetts General Hospital to train in psychiatry because of the wonderful reputation of its training program. I vividly remember my first day as a resident at Mass General—I was so excited, and the excitement of being here has never ceased.
I have had great mentors at Mass General who have made it possible for me to succeed, but I have also had the opportunity to mentor faculty and fellows, and this has been extremely rewarding. Mass General is an incredible place, where the colleagues are wonderful and there is a culture that emphasizes how patients always come first.
Q: What are your areas of clinical interest?
A: Depression has been the main focus of both my clinical work and my research. I was drawn into this area by my experience as a trainee in seeing both the intense suffering of my patients and the great impact of treatments on them. Those treatments, when successful, were able to truly restore one’s functioning. I even remember one patient telling me “I got my life back!”
In 1990, I founded the Depression Clinical and Research Program and served as the director for nearly 25 years.
Q: What excites you most about becoming chief of the department?
A: The Department of Psychiatry at Mass General, which celebrated its 85th birthday this year, has long been a pioneer in psychiatry research, patient care and education. As a clinician, scientist and educator, I am both thrilled and honored to serve as department chair because of our wonderful faculty and staff, and the opportunity to continue our tradition of leadership in the field through innovation.
We have the best residency training program, psychology internships and psychiatry and psychology fellowships in the country. Our research has an incredible impact on the field—three of our faculty are among the top 25 most cited psychiatry authors in the world. We have unsurpassed subspecialty expertise with over 50 specialized clinical and research programs, and we are recognized as the #1 Psychiatry Department in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
I look forward to working together with our faculty and staff to build on our department’s existing strengths and develop new ones. This will enable us to grow strategically and stay on psychiatry’s cutting edge.
Q: What are some of the most exciting developments on the horizon for the department and for the field?
A: There has never been a more exciting time for psychiatry and neuroscience. We are clearly on the brink of innovative therapies and new approaches to the treatment of psychiatric illnesses, thanks to discoveries of both the biology of psychiatric disorders and new molecular targets.
It is also critical for our department to leverage new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and digital tools for mental health, to deliver more personalized and cost-effective treatments.
Mass General Neuroscience is a wonderful initiative aimed at fostering collaborations across the departments involved in neuroscience research (Psychiatry, Neurology and Neurosurgery) and in relevant clinical care. I think it provides a great opportunity for all of us to sit down together and to plan both research and patient care in a way that is much more comprehensive.
Q: How does the research conducted in the Department of Psychiatry help the average patient?
A: Patients come to Mass General because we offer the best care available, and our research offers them hope for even better care, since research is critical for improving the care of our patients.
Our department has been a pioneer in the use of high potency benzodiazepine medications in the treatment of panic disorder and in the development of nutraceuticals alternatives (foods that provide health benefits in addition to their nutritional value) to for the treatment of depression. We have also led to the discovery of new therapies for conditions such as ADHD and OCD.
We in the Mass General Department of Psychiatry routinely incorporate innovation into our clinical practice, challenging conventional views with respect to how we practice and deliver care.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your time as chief of the department?
A: I would like to strongly support both the research that our outstanding investigators conduct, as well as the clinical services that our terrific clinicians provide. I want our department to be known as the best place to work, train and learn in the field of psychiatry, so that we can attract and retain the best physicians, psychologists and scientists.
I want to improve access to mental health treatment and to leverage new technologies to achieve this. I want to make sure that we will be leaders in treatment development and pioneers in delivering high-quality care efficiently. I want to ensure that our department will be known for its spirit of collaboration, for its diversity, and for being an environment that is supportive, transparent and exciting.
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Learn More About the Department of Psychiatry
We are committed to providing the highest quality in care to patients of all ages in a compassionate, safe and patient-focused manner. Our department includes more than 60 specialty integrated clinical and research programs that address virtually every aspect of psychiatric disorders and mental illness.