In the Spotlight: Laura Lai, M.D.

Dr. Laura Lai joined CHOC Children’s in November 2018 as the psychiatry lead for the ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at CHOC. She also oversees the transition clinic for patients after discharge from the Mental Health Inpatient Center, and she is involved in the BAN (Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa) eating disorder clinic. She completed undergraduate and medical school at Texas A&M and her psychiatry residency and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at UC Irvine. We chatted with Dr. Lai about her journey in psychiatry and what she enjoys most about working with CHOC patients and families.

Dr. Laura Lai, psychiatry
Dr. Laura Lai, psychiatry

What drew you to psychiatry?

I was drawn to psychiatry because everyone has a story, and I loved hearing patients’ stories and finding ways to help them. And I saw patients who were suffering get better and live fulfilling lives. There is still so much we don’t know about mental health, and I find it exciting that we’re at a point in time when there is such a push to learn more and to develop new and innovative treatments. Just because mental illness isn’t always visible in a physical way doesn’t mean that it’s something that should be swept under the rug. I love that we’re talking about mental illness more and more because that’s the only way we’re going to fight the stigma.

What do you enjoy about pediatric psychiatry specifically?

Kids and teens go through so many different fun, exciting and sometimes scary life stages and it’s such a blessing to be able to help them navigate those times together. I love watching my patients grow and mature and develop new skills and experiences.

What about ASPIRE are you most proud of?

I am so proud of the entire ASPIRE team. Each and every team member is so capable and caring to patients, families and each other. I think that’s what really makes our program stand out. And we know that what we do works because we see so many patients and families progress as they go through the program. We’re often just a chapter in their overall mental health story, but for many, this time is a valuable turning point in their lives.

What would you most like the community or referring providers to know about your division at CHOC?

We’re growing, and we need your help, too. Many times, it’s not us but primary care doctors who are at the frontlines — the first to notice concerning signs and symptoms and raise those important questions way before the word “psychiatry” ever comes up. Thank you for all that you do, and please continue inquiring and talking about mental health. Learn more about the ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at CHOC Children’s.