Dr. Pierre Arty, Alumni Association President, was recently interviewed by our new Administrative Associate & Social Media Manager, Ms. Laravia Coleman. In the interview, Dr. Arty describes a few of the exciting experiences he has had over his 31 years in medicine.
Before attending SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, Dr. Arty received his bachelor's degree from Columbia College of Columbia University. He spent eight years working at St. Vincent Services as the Clinical Medical Director before moving on to Housing Works to serve as an advisor for the organization's Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners. He then became the Housing Works' Director of Psychiatry and later became the Chief Psychiatric Officer, the first of its kind.
The complete interview between Dr. Arty and Ms.Coleman:
Q: Where were you born?
A: I'm originally from Haiti.
Q: What made you get into medicine?
A: While attending Columbia, I had a counselor who encouraged my continuous pursuit of academics, but when I mentioned to her that I was deciding to go into medicine, she discouraged me. She said, "that I would never make it as far as getting into medical school." She said, "I should continue my studies in Political Science and not go into medicine." So, the moment she discouraged me from going into medicine, I said, you know what? I'm going into medicine. That pushed me over an edge because I didn't think that she had the right to discourage me from pursuing something that I wanted to do. I didn't know what her motivations were, but I never went back to her. But I think that was just what pushed me over the edge because I was wondering, you know, should I go into law? Should I go into political science? But when she said, you know, you'll never make it into medical school, I said, all right, I'm going to apply for medical school.
Q: How did you decide on a specialty?
A: Well, first, I started with medicine. When I got into medical school, I decided to pursue a residency in internal medicine. While in internal medicine, I noticed there was a stigma involved with individuals who had psychiatric illnesses or who had emotional problems. It was a quick knee-jerk reaction. Whenever somebody would exhibit a psychiatric issue, we would call psych, and psych would handle it. And I wondered, what is it that psych had that medicine didn't have, you know, did they have some kind of magic wand that would make people all the better? It fostered my interest in pursuing a second residency in psychiatry to see what I could learn more about to help people holistically. And so, I decided to pursue a second residency in psychiatry after finishing medicine.
In addition, the discipline of psychiatry complimented my personality because I enjoy engaging with people. I enjoy trying to help folks out with issues that they have in their lives and taking the time to speak with folks. So, psychiatry just kind of met my personality in a perfect way. And I've never regretted it.
Q: What keeps you motivated?
A: Helping folks and being able to make a difference in their lives. I felt fulfilled when I was doing medicine in terms of somebody coming in with an infection: you're able to identify the organism that's causing it and come up with antibiotics to treat the person, and they feel better. It's the same with psychiatry; it's a similar type of fulfillment. But when dealing with someone who has some kind of psychological trauma, anxiety, or even psychosis where their sense of reality is not the same as yours or mine, you're able to treat that or make that a little better. It is an incredible feeling of fulfillment that you're able to help folks out. I've had patients describe the experience as their lives being filled with color, whereas when they were depressed, it was just a black and white existence. But then, when they're coming out of the depression, they're saying that color is now coming back into their lives. Even if it's not a cure because we don't have cures for many things, we have a treatment that may help mitigate or minimize the symptoms and provide them with some type of relief. And so that's very, very fulfilling.
Q: Do you feel like there's a stigma in psychiatry or the medical field regarding the black community, whether the Black immigrant community or the Black American community?
A: Overall, in the field of psychiatry, there is stigma throughout the world. I do medical missions, and I can tell you that people have a general stigma with psychiatric illness and mental illness in the different countries that I've gone to. Stigma exists in the Caribbean Community, the African American community, and the Latin community. Nobody wants to be the one people point to and say, hey… this one's got a problem or this one you can't trust because you know, they're not too stable. Unfortunately, research has shown that African Americans access mental health services, and the Latin community, far less than white communities, access them. It's an inequity regarding treatment and the concept of how helpful psychiatric care or psychological care can be.
Q: To shift gears, where do you see yourself in five years?
A: You know, I work for Housing Works; it's a beautiful organization. It's involved with advocacy and engaged with a lot of good work. I think in five years, I may still be at housing works. I'm not sure in what capacity because it provides me an opportunity to stretch my wings as far as advocacy, as far as administrative work, and providing a service to the public. So, I think I may still be here in five years, but I am also working on a Novella in five years. I would have published my first work of fiction that I am very proud of. I'm doing the final revisions, and we'll see where that goes. So, in five years, I see myself as a published author of a Novella.
Q: What are your hopes for the Alumni Association?
A: I hope that we can have more alumni involved. It's always good to recruit more alumni. To encourage the present students to be involved in the alumni association once they finish their medical school studies. I hope to raise even more funds to do what we would like to do, investing in our students. For individuals involved in research, if we have more funds to help them with any research topic that they're going to be involved with, we can minimize the cost of their expenses. Unfortunately, we didn't have an Alumni Reunion weekend because of the pandemic, but we hope to have one in 2022. And if we can have even more alumni, not just the numbers, but also get more alumni involved in what we do, we can make an even more significant difference in our medical students.
Q: Do you have any advice for young doctors?
A: Young doctors, I will say one thing, do not be discouraged because it's a difficult journey. Things are more difficult these days regarding issues coming up about billing related to time spent with patients. Even with the technology, there's been a significant change from when I graduated from what's going on right now—things they are dealing with, such as telemedicine. I will say whenever you're treating someone; please be mindful that this could be a relative. This could be a loved one. So, I think to try to treat everyone as if they were a relative or someone you love, to express that compassion is very important.
Q: How does it feel to be black in medicine?
A: I feel great being a black man in medicine; I do because, you know, you're a role model. You set an example for others. You show others that, hey, you know what? Maybe I can do this. Above and beyond the negative stereotypes you may hear or see about black people. I've done medical missions in the Middle East, and people often expect a particular type, maybe a white guy, to be the one with the stethoscope, or perhaps they think that I'm the nurse. But then when they find out that I am the physician, you know, eyebrows were raised, and they smile, and they are happy to see a black person, a brown person, a person of color who is involved with treating them. And they feel that they're represented, and they feel good about that. So, it's a very positive experience, and it's something that I am very much aware of in terms of my presentation. When you go into a room, and it's just filled with non-black people or non-persons of color, and you're the only one there. You know, your presence is essential.
Q: If you could pick another profession, would it be?
A: In another life [laughs], I think I would love to direct movies. Yeah, I'm here at the Lower East Side. I've presented, written, run, and produced plays twice a year for the past ten years. Seasonal plays for the community, and they've been well attended. They've been very well received! And so, if I had to do it all over again, I'd probably go into cinematography.