Dr Harris Eyre believes in training doctors with diverse skills and strengths – something he knows a lot about as a Fulbright scholar conducting research on mental illness prevention, a policy practitioner exploring links between managing mental illness and diet and exercise and a role as a medical training innovator. He tells us how he makes it work and his ambitions for the future.
GHG: Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Mackay, a regional town in Central Queensland. Mackay was primarily a sugar cane harvesting town, however now the economy and society is mainly run on coal mining. I come from a family of ex-Victorians who relocated to the warmer tropics. I grew up with my parents, one s
ister and my grandma.
My decision to study medicine originally was based on it being an interesting and challenging career. The seminal experience in my career was when I started working with Prof Bernhard Baune as a third year medical student. Prof Baune, the local professor of psychiatry, was kind enough to employ me as a Research Officer. Since starting with Prof Baune, I have become passionate about psychiatry. I now find myself on a Fulbright Scholarship working with Prof Helen Lavretsky at UCLA, aiming to finish my PhD in the next 12 months and return to clinical psychiatry when I get back to Australia.
The key has been to work hard, follow my passions, find great and generous mentors, as well as a team of people to work with. Working so hard can be tough, but if you have the right people supporting and guiding you, then it’s a lot easier.
In my spare time I enjoy golf, swimming and meditation.
GHG: Tell us about your current roles.
My passions are for mental health, mental illness prevention, and improving training of junior doctors and medical career diversification. I am a proud ‘portfolio careerist’, so I have a number of different roles.
This year at UCLA, my research explores models for the prevention of late-life depression and Alzheimer’s disease. I’m involved in a range of activities from clinical trials, to neuroimaging analyses, to writing book chapters and all those academic-type things.
To complement the research on mental illness prevention, I’m working with the Public Health Association of Australia’s Mental Health Special Interest Group on position statements surrounding the role of diet and physical activity in the management of mental health. This policy work with PHAA helps to attain more direct results from my work.
One other role I have is as a medical training innovator. I realised some years back that I not only like to work in the (health) ‘system’, but also on the ‘system’. There is a great need for more doctors to engage in diversified pursuits like public health, leadership, research. My colleagues and I are now busily working towards reform in this area.
I am also a psychiatry trainee in Australia, and am working to gain specialist accreditation.
GHG: How do you keep motivated to take on these multiple roles successfully?
The toughest part about these various roles is that there are many of them, and only so much time in the day. It’s really key to stay balanced in life. Great friends, mentors and a supportive partner have helped me immensely to stay fresh and focused. I would not be the person I am today without their input – I am very fortunate.
GHG: Where would you like to take your career in the future?
I would like to get more involved in global health pursuits – supporting people in low and middle resource environments. There is clearly a need to work more with people in the greatest need. I am inspired by Prof Vikram Patel, a global health psychiatrist, who is leading the way in global mental health research, policy and practice. Some startling statistics I recently read were, in low-income countries there is only one mental health worker for every 100,000 people. In some countries, there is no published data on the mental illness burden; how do we help people that we don’t know are suffering?
My ultimate goal is ambitious: I would like to see meaningful reductions in the mental illness burden around the world. I think this could be achieved through novel diagnostic systems, treatment and prevention development, as well as by expanding the capacity of the mental health workforce. Many hands make light work!
GHG: What are your tips for people interested in working in global health?
My best advice would be to contact organisations like the Global Ideas Forum and the Global Health Gateway to start finding out about how to get involved. There are many willing people who can help you out.
GHG: Resources for global mental health.
Look out for Prof Vikram Patel’s TED talk, Lancet and New England Journal Medicine articles.