Patrice A. Harris, M.D.
Dr. Patrice Harris is one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists.
So when Dateline NBC decided to do a show to follow up on the infamous Tom Cruise/Matt Lauer psychiatry debate on NBC’s Today Show, they needed to consult the medical profession’s foremost experts. And Harris was on the list.
Harris, who represents the American Psychiatric Association, explained that the show allows representatives of the psychiatry field to discuss the science of mental illness. The purpose of the show is to try to counter the misinformation that may have been presented by Cruise.
Although today she is a highly successful doctor, Harris first started gaining knowledge about medicine as a psychology major in 1978. She finished her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s degree in counseling and medical degree all from WVU.
“Earning my medical degree was probably my greatest accomplishment at WVU,” said Harris. The Bluefield, W.Va., native was the first person in her family to attend medical school, so this was especially meaningful to her.
While attending WVU, Harris led a busy collegiate life by being involved with many student organizations. She was president of the Black Unity Organization, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and was involved with the Student Government Association.
“WVU was a nurturing place for me,” said Harris. She explained that while at WVU, she gained the confidence that helped her deal with the world outside academia. After medical school, she moved to Atlanta, Ga., to complete her residency at Emory University.
Harris made Atlanta her new home and began a private psychiatry practice where she treats children, adolescents and adults. In addition to her practice, she also has done extensive work in the area of forensic psychiatry, where she works closely with attorneys in criminal cases. She helps attorneys answer questions of whether or not mental illness played a part in alleged crimes.
“I don’t do the same thing every day,” said Harris, when discussing the variety in her job, “but what I enjoy the most is helping people.”
Harris is also very involved in organized medicine. Currently, she is president-elect of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association. She has also spent a significant part of her career at the Georgia State Capitol, lobbying for various health care issues.
Although she has spent most of her adult life in Atlanta, Harris said she often misses West Virginia. Her family still resides in Bluefield, W.Va., and she tries to make the trip north to the Mountain State at least twice a year.
“I made life-long friends at WVU,” said Harris, “and I try to keep in touch in any way I can.”
One way she has kept in touch with her WVU family is through the Black Alumni Reunion. As a young alumna, one of the first things Harris did was to help coordinate the first Black Alumni Reunion weekend. “It was the year we beat Penn State,” Harris recalls about the event, which took place at a Mountaineer home football game.
After attending the Black Alumni Reunion this year, Harris said she was impressed with the support of the WVU Alumni Association. Harris also said that is it important to be involved with your alma mater. “You have to give back to a place that nurtures you and makes you who you are.”