Medscape at 25: Recognizing Medicine's Rising Stars

Becky Lang


December 07, 2020

Angela Coombs, MD, is a psychiatrist and medical director at OnTrackNY/Washington Heights Community Service. She is also an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute.

The opportunity to help people heal, especially young people, is what drew Angela Coombs, MD, into the field of psychiatry.

"When you're working with a young person who's already gone through so much, it's important that those early encounters really help to set the stage for what their care can look like," says Coombs, who finished her residency in 2019. "Then [patients] can be in control and ask fundamental questions."

As medical director at OnTrackNY/Washington Heights Community Service in New York City, she cares for people between the ages of 16 and 30 who have had their first episodes of psychosis. Beyond the stigma of seeking out care for mental health, just trying to navigate the healthcare system can be overwhelming.

"In a lot of medicine, psychiatry included, there are inequitable distributions of power, and people can experience the system as disempowering, frightening, or traumatizing," Coombs says.

She aims to knock down that fear factor by connecting her patients to the community-based environment of OnTrackNY/Washington Heights. Coombs and her colleagues teach participants how to build a resumé and develop good relationships with employers, as well as how to navigate school-related issues. They also provide family therapy.

Coombs says her training in the Columbia University Public Psychiatry Fellowship cemented for her how important it is to restructure programming and examine policies that focus on disease-centered, rather than patient-centered, models. She is also an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute.

During the pandemic, many patients have been able to transition to teletherapy and tele–medication management. She says some were able to get to their virtual appointments more easily, while other patients lacked Wi-Fi connectivity and struggled. The community clinic has been able to continue to hold in-person appointments, with safety measures and equipment in place, she says.

But COVID-19 has been difficult. "Some individuals have to navigate a lot of loss, a lot of grief," Coombs says. "We have to continue to hold space for people to process so much loss ... and help them navigate a lot of uncertainty."

As part of Medscape's celebration of our 25th anniversary this year, we're recognizing 25 young physicians who are rising stars in medicine, poised to become future leaders of their fields. View the full list here.


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