Family medicine and psychologist Joseph Tan, PhD, cares for patients at our local family medicine clinics. His patients have a variety of mental health conditions:
He also sees transgender patients.
MEET A UVA PSYCHOLOGIST
We asked Tan to answer our 7 Quick Questions.
Why did you become a doctor?
I decided to become a clinical psychologist initially because of my interest in how people form and maintain relationships. I'm also interested in the impact relationships can have on life more broadly.
Becoming a psychologist gave me an opportunity to study relationships and put what I learned into practice in terms of helping people. I'm drawn to complex things. Peoples' psychological experiences can be one of the most complex, difficult problems that someone can work on.
Why did you choose your specialty?
My specialty within clinical psychology is primary care behavioral health. I focus on integrating physical healthcare with behavioral healthcare. In this approach, behavioral health "consultants" are embedded in primary care clinics. This provides a low-barrier, often same-day evidence-based behavioral health intervention as part of the primary care team.
I chose this specialty because I see it as a crucial part of what a better system for behavioral healthcare looks like in the future. It has the potential to normalize getting help for behavioral health problems. Plays a prevention role in strengthening behavioral health, and meet patients where they are already at in terms of receiving healthcare in a trusted setting.
What's one thing about your specialty that might surprise people?
That it exists! While primary care behavioral health is a growing field, most primary care clinics don't operate on that model. So it can be a surprise at some places that it's happening. Primary care behavioral health can also surprise people because it doesn't always look exactly like popular conceptions of therapy.
While I have a comfy couch in my office, I often see patients in the exam room as they're getting their physical healthcare. I work hand-in-hand with the rest of the primary care team to develop the behavioral health part of their treatment plan.
What's the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?
We're just scratching the surface of the primary care behavioral health model's potential. So there's a lot to look forward to.
Still, I'm most excited by the integration of primary care behavioral health into population health efforts nationwide. We know that physical health and behavioral health are deeply entwined with each other. Healthcare systems around the country are seeing primary care behavioral health as an important component of their efforts to improve health at a population level. They see the necessity of addressing behavioral health needs in order to adequately address physical health needs.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Wilmington, DE. Yes, I have a story about running into President Biden like every other Delawarean. And I went to college in Haverford, PA.
Who is your inspiration or hero?
I don't have one specific hero. My mentors have greatly influenced me throughout my training experience.
Mental & Physical Help
Our family medicine team provides both primary care and counseling.
Dr. Joseph Allen (UVA Psychology) was my research mentor during my PhD program. He bestowed a view of adolescence as a time of great social growth and development (as opposed to "storm and stress"). And helped me understand how the structures of our society don't give teens the best chance to grow sometimes.
Doctors Claudia Allen (UVA Family Medicine and who I get to work with still!) and Ted Siedlecki (my predecessor at UVA Family Medicine) shaped my approach to patient care. They taught me the values of being flexible and willing to take on challenges.
Dr. Sarah Hartley (Salem VA Medical Center) helped me understand the true potential and reach of primary care behavioral health and inspires me to work to grow this approach to care.
What's your favorite thing about working at UVA?
I love the people I work with, including staff, trainees, and fellow faculty! Being on a team and getting to interact regularly with people from different backgrounds and specialties. I learn every day from the people I work with, and it's a real privilege to get so much exposure to expertise outside of what I know.