By Wendy Sarubbi | February 20, 2012 4:19 pm

From musicians to astronauts to patients, geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Josepha Cheong knows something about leaning into life – not away from it.

“It helps to make human connections … know the people around you,” Dr. Cheong told students at the UCF College of Medicine on February 7 in a visit sponsored by Students in Academic Medicine (SIAM) and Geriatrics Interest Group (GIG).

That message resonates throughout Dr. Cheong ‘s life. After someone saw photographs she had taken and posted online, she got a job as official tour photographer for country music’s Brooks & Dunn – while maintaining her medical career. Through her ties with the University of Florida, Dr. Cheong joined the space shuttle medical support team for several launches.

Speaking about “Surviving Medical School and Staying Human,” Dr. Cheong encouraged students to seize opportunities and build relationships.  “Your world is so open now, you can do anything,” she said. “Remind yourself of that when you get discouraged.”

She also advised students to:

  • “Have at least one person who thinks you are a good person,” which provides invaluable support during tough times.
  • “Know why you are in medicine, because if you don’t, it gets tough.”  The best mission is to help people, she said.
  • “Don’t give up if you believe in something, but don’t be stubbornly stupid either.”
  • “Don’t be mean.” That last point, Dr. Cheong said, comes from her mother.


Dr. Cheong, who has been with the University of Florida Department of Psychiatry since 1994 and is an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology, said working with patients and their families is “incredibly fulfilling.” However, she warned, fewer doctors are specializing in geriatric psychiatry at the same time the U.S. population is aging. As of March 2011, for example, Dr. Cheong reported the United States had 7, 162 board-certified geriatric medicine specialists, but only 1,751 board-certified geriatric psychiatrists. That’s one geriatric psychiatrist for every 10,865 older patients.  By 2030, that ratio is projected to decrease to 1 for every 12,557 patients 75 or older.

There are many reasons for students to think about geriatric psychiatry, Dr. Cheong said. The field fosters respect for the elderly, values personal relationships, offers intellectual challenges, and allows medical professionals to meet “older patients with an incredible history, a robust life story.”

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