Lasting gift of pearls

Lasting gift of pearls

Colleagues want to pass on Christensen’s wisdom for future psychiatrists

By Michelle Koidin Jaffee

post_aufh_christensenIn tribute to the beloved late UF psychiatrist Richard Christensen, the department of psychiatry has published “Christensen Pearls,” a 38-page manual to share his clinical “pearls,” or time-honored methods and wisdom for treating various conditions based on clinical observation and experience.

Christensen, M.D., M.A., was killed by a hit-and-run driver last Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day, while out for his morning run during a Habitat for Humanity mission trip to Zambia. A professor of psychiatry and two-time winner of the UF College of Medicine’s Hippocratic Award, Christensen, 60, devoted his life to helping those struggling with chronic mental illness and homelessness. He was the director of behavioral health services at the Sulzbacher Center in Jacksonville, where he was known for deploying in a van to help people where they were, on the streets, in parks, under bridges.

Now, his colleagues have produced “Christensen Pearls” as a teaching tool for residents and medical students, pulling from a few of his 100-plus peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and reviews and including recollections from patients and peers. Topics include, “Making peace with hostile, unwilling patients,” “How to approach your patient’s relapse,” and “Homeless, not hopeless: Four strategies for successful interventions.”

Copies of the book, which includes artwork by Christensen’s patients, are being distributed to medical students through the clerkship and to psychiatry interns and residents.

Christensen’s colleagues hope to pass on his “pearls” to future psychiatrists to carry on his legacy. Their next project, already underway, is developing an ethics curriculum drawing on his publications.

“He made everyone want to be better teachers, care providers and human beings,” Jacqueline A. Hobbs, M.D., Ph.D., director of the psychiatry residency training program, wrote in “Christensen Pearls.”

“Dr. Christensen affected people deeply,” she wrote. “He had a way of engaging others with a smile and twinkle in his eye. He was mindful, and it is certain that his patients and students always felt that he was paying attention and listening to them.”

Wrote one former patient, “He told me I was human, that I was worth saving. … He always told me, ‘I’m not going to give up on you.’ He said, ‘If you want this, I’ll walk with you the entire way.’

“He made me feel like his only patient,” the patient wrote. “You weren’t a homeless person to him.”