By Wendy Sarubbi | August 7, 2014 10:10 am

Dr. Marcy Verduin, the College of Medicine’s associate dean for students and a newly promoted professor of psychiatry, has been named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for her significant contributions to the profession in education, research and patient care.

As a clinician and researcher, Dr. Verduin specializes in the mental health needs of homeless veterans suffering from addictions, and said she focuses on those patients because they are the most marginalized in healthcare. She said that during medical school she never planned on specializing in psychiatry, and even joked to her fiancé (now husband) at the time that at least her psychiatry clerkship rotation would have better hours than surgery. But Dr. Verduin said she became fascinated with the life stories of her patients and frustrated that they were often stigmatized and received substandard care. Other illnesses of mentally ill patients were often overlooked or discounted with healthcare professionals telling such patients their symptoms “were all in their head.”

“The brain is no different than any other organ,” she said of mental illness. “It can get sick.”

Dr. Verduin says she emphasizes to medical students that addiction is the same as many chronic illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes. Patients with both conditions have a genetic predisposition to their illness. Environmental and behavioral components impact that predisposition. Someone addicted to alcohol doesn’t succumb to that illness if he or she never picks up a drink just as someone predisposed to adult-onset diabetes may never get the disease if he or she watches their diet, keeps their weight down and exercises.

The difference between the two diseases is the stigma that the public – and even healthcare providers – give to one medical condition over the other. “No one ever says to a diabetic who ends up in the emergency ward, ‘When you’re serious about treating your disease, I’ll help you,’” she said. “But we do that with people suffering from addictions. It’s like a dentist saying. ‘Come back when you don’t have cavities.’”

As a new medical school, Dr. Verduin hopes UCF can be on the forefront of how it teaches physicians in training to approach and treat mental illness and to research better ways to help patients battling mental illness. “My goal as a psychiatrist is to help people solve problems and accomplish the goals they have for their lives,” she said. “I can think of a lesson I’ve learned from every patient. They all taught me – never give up on your patient because they can always surprise you with the improvements and changes they can make.”

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