newsmaker: David Rissmiller, DO
Q Who are your mentors and how did they influence you?
My most influential mentor was Joseph Bloom, MD, Dean and Professor Emeritus at Oregon Health and Science University. He taught me the foundations of transcultural psychiatry and how the mentally ill in our culture and cultures around the world become disenfranchised from society. I came to UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) because the founder and first chair of this department, Dr. William F. Ranieri, was dedicated to bringing academic psychiatry into public mental health.
Q Describe a "Eureka" moment you've had.
My first mentor, Joe Bloom, believed in immersing oneself in a disenfranchised culture when attempting to understand what it is like to be a mentally ill person trying to navigate the mental health system. So in 1976, I moved to Colombia, South America, for a year. I spoke no Spanish and had no sponsoring agency. I lived in a small town and got a job teaching English at a local medical facility. Prior to this, my dealings with poverty were some brief rotations I had done at north and west Philadelphia clinics. I was now living among people who endured perpetual medical and other scarcities beyond anything I had seen in my worst urban ghetto encounter. But there was much more about that year than the upset about being exposed to people who endure pervasive poverty and hardships. I saw many moving examples of people rising above their circumstances and treating the medically and mentally ill with compassion. These were my inspirational moments and the beginning of my wanting to work in public mental health.
Q How did you become a "newsmaker," and how do you feel about this role?
SOM's marketing department called me because I enjoy interacting with the news media by discussing popular issues of the day. I've appeared in national Associated Press stories on such topics as the McGreevey resignation and what it means to a family when the father discovers and admits he is gay, and the letdown Kerry supporters felt after their loss at the polls. Locally, I've appeared in articles on subjects ranging from suicides to why people fail to keep New Year's resolutions.
Q Describe your work at SOM.
I am currently chair of the Department of Psychiatry, and before that, was vice-chair for seven years. The department is the largest provider of psychiatric services in southern New Jersey. Our Developmental Disabilities Division is among the largest providers of care for those with developmental and mental health disorders in the nation. Our psychiatric residency, approved by both the American Osteopathic Association and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, has graduated more than 50 psychiatrists who are practicing throughout the country. We provide a link between academic psychiatry and indigent or underserved patients with severe mental disorders in hospital systems, crisis centers, and partial care programs in seven New Jersey counties. Because SOM Dean R. Michael Gallagher has steadfastly supported psychiatry at SOM, we have been able to provide services to the needy even when it has been financially difficult. My clinical time is spent seeing mentally ill children for the Division of Youth and Family Services in Camden County. I serve as director of the Community Adjustment Program at Camden County Health Services Center and Medical Director for Family Services of Burlington County. I'm currently principal investigator for three clinical trials at SOM.
Q What do you consider the top three accomplishments of your career?
Bringing academic psychiatry to public mental health agencies throughout southern New Jersey;
- Being named department chair this year, and Psychiatrist of the Year by the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies in 2003;
- Advancing psychiatric research in my profession through publications and clinical trials.