School of Public Health

SPH alum impacting lives through psychiatric research, education and advocacy


Posted Date: February 26, 2018

Deepak PrabhakarDeepak Prabhakar, MD, MPH (Epidemiology), graduated from the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH) in 2006 and now serves as Director of Psychiatric Education at Henry Ford Health System, Detroit.

He is also Training Director for the Psychiatry Residency Program at Henry Ford Hospital/ Wayne State University and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

As current President of the Michigan Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Prabhakar says that his education and later work experience at UNTHSC continue to influence all aspects of his work today.

“It was during courses like Intermediate and Advanced Epidemiology that certain principles of research were clearly laid out, principles that I continue to use not only in my work now but also while teaching my own classes,” he explained.

“At UNTHSC, I was also fortunate to work as a teaching assistant with wonderful professors and mentors,” he said. “This experience was especially helpful, as it set the foundation for some of the principles of adult learning that I have been using since. The valuable research experience I gained working on a major NIH-funded study, Cancer Risk in Workers Exposed to Oncogenic Viruses, related to lung cancer risk among workers in the meat and poultry industry, not only prepared me for the research I have been doing since, but also gave me a rare opportunity to interact with individuals across different parts of the country.”

Dr. Prabhakar’s initial role in the study was to conduct personal interviews consisting of about 250 questions each.

“As challenging as that might sound,” he said, “it was heartening to see that people really wanted to give their time and participate to help influence outcomes related to an industry in which their near and dear ones had spent their whole life working. It should come as no surprise that the ability to be patient while actively listening has helped me tremendously in the clinical realm ever since.”

During his time at UNTHSC, Dr. Prabhakar also worked as project lead on the North Texas Mental Health Transformation Initiative, involving local community health networks, criminal justice and county officials in a comprehensive assessment to identify the mental health needs and service gaps across a seven-county region of North Texas.

This work led to publication of the first Epidemiologic Profile of Mental Health for North Texas and was later profiled as a “best case” in Community Quality-of-Life Indicators, published by the International Society of Quality-of-Life Studies.

Dr. Prabhakar’s work now is even more far-reaching as he addresses suicide, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. that is at its highest point in the last 30 years.

He is currently involved in NIH-funded research investigating the risk association between suicide and non-psychiatric factors, such as medical conditions.

“Traditionally, most interventions have focused on improving suicide-related outcomes in specialty psychiatric settings; however, most patients who attempt or die by suicide never receive psychiatric care, making it important to study and implement prevention strategies in general health care settings,” he said.

In all of his roles today – researcher, state leader, professor, mentor, advocacy and change agent in the areas of mental health and psychiatric education – Dr. Prabhakar says he is happiest and feels most fulfilled when he sees “patients getting better, families getting much needed resources, and medical students and residents learning the art and science of medicine.”

“It’s key that we switch every now and then from an individualized care approach and wear the public health hat to inform outcomes at the group level,” he said. “My state leadership role has allowed for advocacy on behalf of our patients who often don’t have a voice, and in my educational role at Henry Ford, it’s personally gratifying to teach and mentor the psychiatry workforce of tomorrow.”

In offering advice to current students in public health and medicine, Dr. Prabhakar said, “Seek mentorship early on, seek collaborative and learning opportunities across disciplines, and don’t discount the importance of lateral learning, or learning from your peers. Some of the most valuable lessons that I learned at UNTHSC and since then have come from my peers.”