Diversity Spotlight: Nadine A. Chang, PhD

The current spotlight is centered on the contributions of Dr. Nadine A. Chang., a licensed clinical psychologist and advocate for Asian American mental health in the state of New York. Dr. Chang earned her B.A. in psychology at New York University, as well as her Ph.D. in clinical and school psychology at Hofstra University. As part of her graduate training, Dr. Chang completed her pre-doctoral internship at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Following the acquisition of her doctoral degree, Dr. Chang dedicated herself to the pursuit of research, clinical work, and training.

Dr. Chang’s primary research interests are centered around the implementation and dissemination of cognitive-behavioral interventions for suicide prevention, psychosis, and other severe and persistent mental illnesses, as well as Asian American mental health. To date, Dr. Chang has assisted in the publication of six published articles on these topic areas. These interests were fostered early in her career, as Dr. Chang was able to work alongside Dr. Aaron Beck during her postdoctoral fellowship and was a recipient of the NIH National Research Service Award for their work. Dr. Chang was later a recipient of a grant from the New York Community Trust, to fund research and outreach efforts to support Asian communities in NYC. In addition to being a scholar and a community activist, Dr. Chang is recognized as a competent clinician worthy of several esteemed positions.

Previously, Dr. Chang served as an attending psychologist at Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West and later acquired the position of director for the Comprehensive Assessment Center. Currently, Dr. Chang holds a position as an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, as well as a role as an Assistant Attending Psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. In addition to these faculty appointments, Dr. Chang also serves as the senior psychologist and psychology training director at the inpatient psychiatric hospital, Gracie Square Hospital, and is chair of the Asian Psychiatry Program Committee.

Dr. Chang’s efforts mentioned thus far have demonstrated her commitments to addressing mental health issues at the individual, organizational, and systemic level. In light of these outstanding contributions, I received the honor of interviewing Dr. Chang with the following 4 questions. Her responses are indicated below:

1) What drove you to your current niche/specialty areas on cognitive-behavioral interventions, suicide prevention, SMI, and Asian American mental health? How would you encourage other students to find their niche/specialty areas?

The progression of my career has been atypical. I started as a research assistant as an undergrad, in a very different area of psychology. While I enjoyed the research process, the subject matter didn’t captivate me. Seeking a change for my senior year of college, I joined Dr. Mark Serper’s schizophrenia research lab at Bellevue Hospital Center, the oldest hospital in the country with a large psychiatry department. Schizophrenia had become my main areas of interest after volunteering at a Brooklyn day treatment program for serious mental illness. I ended up staying at Dr. Serper’s lab at Bellevue for nine years, spanning undergrad through graduate school, conducting cognitive assessments and symptom ratings with inpatients with schizophrenia and comorbid substance use.  My dissertation centered on Chinese inpatients with schizophrenia, investigating cultural aspects that factor into symptom presentation.

Bellevue Hospital’s Asian American psychiatric unit allowed me to collect data for my dissertation, fueling my ongoing interest in serious mental illness and psychosis, particularly within the Asian American community. Post-doctorate, I joined a suicide research lab at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, gaining expertise in suicide assessment and treatments. I integrated my experiences in schizophrenia research, cultural considerations, and suicide assessment, shaping my current position. This journey reflects a transition from a broad research interest to a nuanced exploration of mental health intersections.

For students who are just starting out, finding mentors is crucial. Even if they don’t align exactly with your specific niche, having mentors related to your interests is valuable. I was fortunate to have mentors who supported my interests in schizophrenia and Asian American mental health, and advocated on my behalf when it came to positions related to this topic. Additionally, I would also recommend having a community or team around you. You do not have to carry everything on your own. With a team and community of people to lean into, you can help cultivate interests, projects, and interests in ways that you could not have leveraged on your own. With a team, you are also able to cultivate a larger impact in your niche areas of interest.

2)  How were you able to collaborate with the father of cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, Dr. Aaron Beck? What lessons did you learn from your experience and what advice would you offer to students who aspire to work alongside such notable figures in the field?

I was fortunate and the timing aligned perfectly. When I spotted an opportunity for a postdoctoral fellowship focusing on schizophrenia with the chance to be a project director, it felt ideal. Having managed my graduate school research lab for years, I had the necessary skills, including assessment expertise. It was a great fit.

A colleague had seen the fellowship posting and forwarded it to me, knowing my research interests. Admittedly, many people applied for that position given it was with Dr. Beck. Fortunately, I had connections with individuals who had collaborated with him before, which worked in my favor, so networking played a significant role. Contacting leaders in the field can be quite beneficial and is something I recommend. We psychologists form a community, and I truly value our support for one another, such as sharing relevant opportunities like this with colleagues.

While I was lucky with the timing, I am grateful for everyone who contributed to me earning the position. Learning CBT for psychosis from Dr. Beck was invaluable. He supported my interest in inpatient work, granting me the opportunity to lead a pilot project at a local hospital. As a mentor, he encouraged creativity, a principle I uphold in my own training program. This experience also led me to other avenues and upward towards the positions I hold today.

For students who have similar aspirations, I want to further highlight the importance of networking and mentorship. Letting others know your interests, and not being afraid to contact leaders in the field, can help you cultivate a community-oriented journey for yourself.

3) Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?

As you progress in your career, it changes over time. When I was a graduate student, when I had an article or book chapter published, that was the most amazing thing ever. When I was heading for a postdoc and was hired by Dr. Beck, that was the most amazing thing ever. When I received a grant to fund mental health outreach for Asian American communities a few years ago, that was also a definite highlight.

I think now at this point in my career, what I find most rewarding is training future generations of psychologists. This passion was formed during my postdoctoral fellowship where I was training and supervising research assistants on psychological and risk assessments, and training inpatient hospital staff on cognitive behavioral interventions. This experience has carried forward for me, as I now direct the psychology training program at Gracie Square Hospital. This experience has been incredibly rewarding, especially when supervising trainees who have never worked with people with serious mental illness or psychosis. It’s a great feeling as well to introduce them to a field that I really love and to have the opportunity to be creative together with interventions and assessments. The ability to create an impact on them so early in their careers is the most rewarding part of all.

4) You have served as a researcher, professor, clinician, director, etc. What comes next for Dr. Chang?

That’s always the question, what’s next? Just recently, I became the director of the psychology service at our hospital. One of our goals is to continue to expand our clinical and academic services and collaborate with other hospital sites in doing so. We are affiliated with larger hospital systems, NewYork–Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, and our goal is to become more integrated and advance psychology services across the system.

I am thankful to be in this position as it has provided me with a lot of administrative and interdisciplinary support, all of which have allowed me to advocate well for our field of psychology as well as Asian American communities. It has been a lot of hard work and effort, but I am very grateful for these opportunities and the successes we have achieved.

In recognizing my journey that led to this position, there is an additional message I would like students to take away from this interview. When I first started my career, I was so certain that I was going to be in academia and never had a second thought about that. However, halfway through that journey, I experienced multiple shifts that have led me to become the training director and clinician that I am now. I make a point to acknowledge this with my trainees that one’s career path does not have to be linear. Additionally, I also make it clear to my trainees that they don’t have to make the decision about the remainder of their careers right now. They can always change paths and should welcome the opportunity for natural change to occur. After all, that is what happened to me.

Written by Esther Lapite, M.A.