Kathleen C. Dougherty, M.D., will step down July 1 after 8 1/2 years as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Lancaster General Hospital. We asked Dr. Dougherty about her challenges and accomplishments as chair, what’s next for her – and the one unusual food she absolutely won’t eat.
What is your background and current role with LG Health?
I’m originally from Philadelphia and completed a combined five-year program at Penn State and Jefferson. I didn’t ever see myself as a psychiatrist. I absolutely knew I was going to be a surgeon. But after my psych rotation, I didn’t want to do anything else. I trained at Case Western, including a forensic psychiatry fellowship. I am triple-boarded in General Adult, Geriatric and Forensic Psychiatry.
I came to Hershey in 1990 and joined LG Health 12 years ago, maintaining one day a week at Hershey. Besides chairing the Psychiatry Department, I have held leadership positions for LGHP Behavioral Health and the Behavioral Health Service Line. I divide my time pretty evenly between clinical and chair duties.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as Chair of Psychiatry?
For many years, we have not emphasized mental health care in this country. We have so much to do but never enough people, time or resources. We are so far behind that trying to catch up is frightening. We are realizing that mental health care can’t be ignored anymore. We have to do something.
The already nationwide shortage of psychiatrists will become critical in the next five years, as many of us reach retirement age. We need to look at factors that make psychiatry a less-popular career choice: It’s poorly paid, emotionally very demanding, and the stigma of mental illness rubs off on the providers as well as patients. Some people, including medical personnel, still think it’s acceptable to make fun of these conditions. I hear it all the time. I hope people can learn to deal with their discomfort more appropriately.
Dr. Kathleen Dougherty in San Diego (above)
and with her husband in New Zealand (below)
What are some of the department’s key accomplishments in your time as chair?
I have been very invested in planning the Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, which opens this summer. Freestanding psychiatric facilities are a trend right now. This enables us to treat patients more economically in a building that is designed for their needs, including access to outdoor space. LG Health has invested a lot of time, effort and energy into the new hospital. We have really stepped up to the plate to meet our community’s needs, which is gratifying to see.
Rolling out integrated behavioral health counseling services to our LGHP primary-care practices has been another huge priority. By embedding counselors in the practices, our primary-care colleagues can take care of more routine behavioral health concerns. It’s also useful in overcoming stigma. With the shift to a population health focus, this approach makes a lot of sense for us.
What’s ahead for the department?
I expect the next chair will continue to focus on recruitment, retention and making the best use of our resources. There is so much we would love to do that is really important for this community, but we don’t have the resources. We need psychiatrists. We need to attract more medical students to study psychiatry and practice here. We need more advanced practice providers. I also hope we will explore creative approaches to reach more patients, such as developing a video series or offering group therapy.
What’s next for you?
It has been inspiring to watch LG Health’s quality and continuous improvement efforts over the past several years. The work of Dr. Mike Ripchinski in particular has kindled my own passion for quality improvement. I have taken the position of Vice Chair for Quality Improvement at Penn State Health. It’s been a good run for me here. I still have a lot of ideas that I hope to pass on before I go.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I like going to auctions. I have travelled to every continent, and I have to say that Antarctica was awesome. I also loved Hong Kong and Jerusalem. I like to eat my way across the continents, especially unusual foods. I was upset that I missed trying flying bats on one trip. I draw the line at insects.