Women in medicine: Pipeline development with five future leaders in academic psychiatry at UIC
Four clinical psychologists and one social worker - Drs. Brittany Rudd, Cope Feurer, Colleen Stiles – Shields, Jenifer Suor and Mary Bunn, respectively, in the Department of Psychiatry received prestigious Career Development ‘K’ Awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the last few months and have launched their tenure track careers in the UIC College of Medicine. All five clinician scientists are active members of the University of Illinois Center on Depression and Resilience – UICDR. This is a stunning milestone in academic medicine for which there is no recent precedent.
As detailed below, these five impressive K-award scientists are poised to address the youth mental health crisis and destined to make a mark on the field with their work. As women, balancing the rigorous demands of academic medicine with raising young children and family life in the wake of the pandemic, each highlighted scientist also serves as a key role model for women in science and academic medicine nationally.
Background: As a field and as a nation, we are faced with sobering statistics concerning youth well-being. Across numerous indices, child and adolescent mental health has steadily worsened over the past decade. Although these challenges were exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, youth mental health difficulties – particularly depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors – existed before the pandemic and continue to persist in the post-pandemic era. From 2011 to 2021, youth distress levels rose at such an alarming pace that the US Surgeon General was prompted to declare a youth mental health crisis.
These terms are not overstated. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds in the United States. According to the 2021 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) System, 42% of US high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their usual activities for at least two weeks during the prior year, a key indicator of depression symptoms. These rates represent significant increases from 2011, but the most notable increases are seen in the youth who seriously considered suicide, made a suicide plan, or attempted suicide. Nearly a quarter of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year, 18% made a suicide plan, and 10% made a suicide attempt.
Although the US Surgeon General’s advisory on the child mental health crisis serves as a call to action, we must be better equipped to heed that call. Despite these staggering levels of distress, the majority of youth remain untreated or undertreated. Implementation of, and access to, high quality health care is a key public health challenge that must be addressed. Investing in innovative research that examines prevention, risk, resilience, and treatment of youth mental health difficulties across the globe is essential to meet these unprecedented challenges.
In answer to this call, the University of Illinois Center on Depression and Resilience/University of Illinois Chicago Department of Psychiatry is ushering in a new wave of women leaders in the field of youth and family mental health. Five clinician scientists, funded by the National Institute of Health’s prestigious Career Development Program (K award), are dedicated to altering the trajectory of youth mental health with novel and timely projects that include examine early prevention models, biological markers of risk, high risk youth and settings, global mental health, and novel technology-based care models. The highly competitive NIH K award program is designed to invest in the research training, mentorship and career development of such promising early career individuals conducting innovative research that will advance the needs of the field and the Institute. These awards provide salary and research support for a period of time (up to 5 years) with the goal of promoting a pipeline of well-trained clinical scientist trailblazers.
“In this time of unprecedented change across the medical landscape, the need to support and nurture the careers and research of future leaders and innovators is of the utmost importance. It’s imperative that the medical industry become more diverse as a whole, and having five awardees for the prestigious K award speaks to the UICDR and Dept of Psychiatry’s dedication to progressive healthcare, with women who are driving change in medicine, research and technology,” says Dr. Anand Kumar, Director of the UICDR and head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Dr. Brittany Rudd
Dr. Brittany Rudd is a licensed child psychologist as well as Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law at the University of Illinois Chicago.
The central theme of her program of research is accelerating research-to-practice implementation in settings that support young people who are marginalized due to race, socioeconomic status, and other factors. She is especially focused on efforts to transform the current legal system into one that centers on wellness and enacts equitable justice. This includes developing, evaluating, and implementing digital mental health tools to promote wellness among family members accessing family law services.
She completed her undergraduate education in psychology at California State University, Fresno; doctoral training in clinical science at Indiana University; predoctoral child clinical psychology internship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and postdoctoral training in implementation science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Rudd’s National Institute of Mental Health K23 award builds upon a 5-year partnership with juvenile legal stakeholders across the nation who are concerned about the rising rate of suicide among Black youth. Over the next 5 years, Dr. Rudd will work with an advisory board of Black, formerly detained young people and juvenile legal stakeholders from the National Partnership for Juvenile Services to build and pilot a Zero Suicide Model for juvenile detention that centers on the needs and voices of Black young people.
Dr. Cope Feurer
Noted for her systematic program of research utilizing a multiple-levels-of-analysis approach to understand risk factors underlying adolescent depression risk, Dr. Cope Feurer joined UIC’s Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2022. The primary aim of her research program is to understand how neurobiological and behavioral affective mechanisms contribute to risk for depression onset during adolescence via real-world interpersonal stress generation (i.e., the process through which youth contribute to the occurrence of stressful life events) and depressogenic stress reactivity.
Prior to coming to UIC, Dr. Feurer received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Binghamton University (SUNY) and her B.S. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Feurer’s National Institute of Mental Health K23 award, titled “Brain-Behavioral Predictors of Interpersonal Stress Generation and Depression Risk in Adolescent Girls” utilizes fMRI and ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to examine neural and behavioral socio-affective reactivity as prospective predictors of interpersonal stress generation and ensuing depressive symptoms in female adolescents with a parental history of depression. Over the next 5 years, Dr. Feurer will be receiving training in advanced fMRI methods, EMA, and multilevel statistical analyses. Findings from her K23 study will provide critical pilot data for future R01 grants focused on improving early identification of at-risk youth by characterizing aberrant brain-behavioral developmental trajectories of socio-affective processing that contribute to the emergence of increased depression risk and stress generation during the transition to adolescence.
Dr. Jennifer Suor
Jennifer Suor, Ph.D. is a Visiting Assistant Professor in UIC’s Department of Psychiatry and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist.
She completed her undergraduate education in psychology at Vassar College; doctoral training in clinical psychology at the University of Rochester; and her predoctoral internship and postdoctoral training at UIC in the Department of Psychiatry and Institute for Juvenile Research.
Her program of research broadly focuses on elucidating the multilevel processes (e.g., socioeconomic, parenting, neurocognitive, psychophysiological) that shape self-regulation and mental health outcomes across child and adolescent development. The goal of her work is to further clarify parenting and biological mechanisms that can be targeted and modified by preventive interventions to reduce mental health risk in children living in stressful environments.
Dr. Suor’s National Institute of Mental Health K23 award, “Improving Brain-Behavior Markers of Preschool Executive Function through a Group-Based Parenting Intervention for Low-Income Families”, seeks to evaluate whether an evidence-based parenting program can modify childhood executive function and thereby reduce risk for disruptive behavior disorders in children. Over the next 5 years she will develop a research program in neuroscience-informed preventive interventions for high-risk children.
Dr. Colleen Stiles-Shields
Colleen Stiles-Shields, Ph.D., is a licensed Clinical Psychologist committed to improving access to mental and behavioral healthcare for systemically excluded and underserved pediatric populations.
She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at DePaul University and then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration (now the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice). She also earned a Master’s Degree and Ph.D. from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Prior to joining UIC’s Department of Psychiatry in 2022, she was a faculty member at Rush University Medical Center.
Dr. Stiles-Shields’ National Institute of Mental Health K08 award investigates and targets the perennial failure of digital mental health (DMH) deployment in real-world environments to date: engagement. Partnering with teens and caregivers from communities with high hardship indexes, Dr. Stiles-Shields and her team are developing a DMH system called the Teen Assess, Check, and Heal (TeACH) System. The TeACH System adapts existing tools for mental health screening and resources via input from teens and caregivers from the West and South Side Communities of Chicago. The TeACH System will be implemented into pediatric primary care clinics at UIC and Rush University Medical Center for a randomized controlled trial.
Dr. Mary Bunn
Mary Bunn, PhD, LCSW is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, Department of Psychiatry. She is also a core faculty member and Co-Director of the Global Mental Health Research and Training Program in the UIC Center for Global Health and a clinical faculty member in the Mood and Anxiety Disorder Program where she provides therapy services to survivors of war, torture and forced migration.
Her research program focuses on community-based mental health prevention and care interventions for refugees and forced migrant communities across the migration continuum. This involves bridging prevention and intervention research to integrate a spectrum of services that are used for communities with diverse needs. She is particularly interested in peer service delivery models, therapeutic processes and how to best mobilize social and family resources through interventions to enhance coping and wellbeing. She integrates implementation science and human centered design methods in her research to enhance uptake and sustainability of evidence-based mental health services for refugee communities.
Dr. Bunn’s National Institute of Mental Health K01 award is a study to adapt an evidence-based multiple family group intervention for Arabic-speaking refugees for use by peer providers in community-based organizations. Dr. Bunn’s research program is informed by her extensive clinical and applied experience including seventeen years working with survivors of torture and political violence in the U.S and in post-conflict and humanitarian settings around the world.
These clinician scientists embody the mission of the UICDR, providing innovative world-class research and clinical care that advances mood disorder treatment.
The Department of Psychiatry is privileged to support this group of talented early career clinician scientists as they launch their programs of mental health research. Both the department and our COM seek to provide a supportive, intellectually stimulating home for these future leaders as they begin to work on important and challenging topics relevant to our changing society.
We are eager to watch these clinician scientists lead the field towards solving the biggest mental health challenges facing youth and families today and bringing greater equity of care across the globe tomorrow.