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.

Meet Dr. Esther Yang

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Esther Yang, a pediatric psychiatrist.

Q: What is your education and training?

A: I attended UCLA for undergrad, Loma Linda University for medical school, and University of California, Irvine for both my psychiatric residency and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: Two months.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A: I am interested in cultural psychiatry, the integration of mental health and spirituality, and implementing a holistic approach in treatment by working with therapists and other providers to integrate care. During fellowship training, I received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to work with minority communities in building awareness about mental health.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A: Depression, anxiety and ADHD. It seems to be much harder today to be a teen than it was ten years ago with social media, bullying, and increased responsibilities.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you/your division at CHOC? 

A: In the psychiatry clinic at CHOC, virtually every patient that we see is also seen by a therapist in the same clinic, making it possible to integrate care, and all of our doctors are fellowship trained in child and adolescent psychiatry.  There are many resources and more on the horizon with the opening of the inpatient unit and the intensive outpatient program.

Q: What excites you most about CHOC’s mental health initiative? 

A: It’s an exciting time at CHOC with the upcoming opening of the inpatient mental health unit, programs such as the intensive outpatient program and new clinics – all coming at a time when there continues to be a shortage in providers and services in psychiatric care. It inspires me to work at a place that is committed to the treatment of children and advancing mental health care.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC? 

A: I love the concept of a hospital that is dedicated to the treatment of children and that every single person shares that dedication.  I’ve had personal experiences with my children being patients at CHOC prior to working here and it was a very positive experience where we felt genuinely taken care of.  I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to work here, it would be a privilege.

Q: Why did you decide to become a pediatric psychiatrist? 

A: I decided to become a pediatric psychiatrist my senior year in high school after hearing a psychiatrist talk about mental health and the great stigma that exists in the minority communities during a lecture at our church. I’ve never regretted this decision and it’s been an incredible journey. I enjoy listening to everyone’s unique stories and working to break stigmas and barriers to access to care, which continue to exist.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?

A: Honestly, I would probably be a stay-at-home mom. I love spending time with my family, doing crafts with my kids and cooking. I also believe that the key to healthy kids starts in the home, and my skills as a psychiatrist are sometimes useful at home when it comes to training and discipline.

Q: What are your hobbies and interests outside of psychiatry? 

A: I enjoy reading, baking, and crafting.

Q: What was the funniest thing a patient told you?

A: I told my therapy patient that I would have to transfer his care to another doctor because I was going on maternity leave.  He replied, “Oh, I thought you were fat or something.” I was nine months pregnant.

Meet Dr. Hoang “Wayne” Nguyen

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Hoang “Wayne” Nguyen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

CHOC Children's

Q: What is your education and training?

A: I received a Bachelor in Computer Science with a minor in Electrical Engineering and Technical Writing from Texas A&M University.  I completed Medical School at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center and did a Psychiatry Internship at University of California, Irvine.  My residency in Adult Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Pediatrics was done at University of Utah Health Science Center.

Q: What are your administrative appointments?

A: Director of Psychiatry, Chair of the Physician Well-being Committee

Q: What are your special clinical interests?
A: Psychosomatic medicine including eating disorders, psycho-oncology, tic disorders, and Autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: Sixteen years.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?
A: Our most exciting program is the building of an inpatient child and adolescent mental health unit. We are also involved in integrating psychiatric care and mental health in various outpatient specialty clinics.   We are also a provider for county Medi-Cal program for patients with co-occurring medical illnesses and psychiatric disorders

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?
A: Anxiety, depression, ADHD

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you or your division at CHOC?
A: We are in the beginning stage of building capacity to see more outpatients.

Q:  What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?
A: It’s comprehensive and we are always striving to do better.

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: At the age of 19 and having graduated from college, I was working as a software engineer at a startup, and there was a realization that there was more to life than what I was doing.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?
A:  Ideally, a rock and roll star, but most likely a software entrepreneur because I like to create new solutions

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
A: I enjoy being with my five children and participating in their activities.  I’m also very active in practicing my faith.  In my spare time, I enjoy outdoor activities and playing tennis.