MACON – Rising second-year medical student Kelby Bulles was selected to work on a student research grant awarded by SAGE Therapeutics™ to Jennifer Barkin, Ph.D., associate professor of community medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM).

The funds were awarded with the express purpose of supporting student research related to the assessment and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) in primary care. The term PMADs refers to a constellation of mental health conditions including postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. 

“Kelby was a natural choice for the project because she is driven, organized and has been interested pursuing a career in obstetrics and gynecology since her undergraduate years. We are grateful for this opportunity to raise awareness regarding the importance of perinatal mental health in our primary care trainees at the medical school,” said Dr. Barkin.

The funds will be used to conduct research, develop manuscripts and facilitate trainings related to the assessment and treatment of PMADs. 

Kelby Bulles (left) will work under the supervision of Jennifer Barkin, Ph.D.

“I have wanted to become a doctor since I was young. I am grateful for this funding to help share my passion through research, women’s mental health trainings and other resources with my peers. It is an honor to spread awareness of this great need in rural Georgia under the phenomenal guidance of my research mentor, Dr. Jennifer Barkin,” said Bulles.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Psychological Association (APA), among others, recommend that providers who serve perinatal women screen for postpartum depression/anxiety. However, reproductive psychiatry is not included in most medical schools’ formal curriculum. This omission becomes apparent when students graduate, transition into residency and practice, and are expected to screen, treat and refer women suffering from PMADs.

“This research is a first step in pushing reproductive psychiatry into the collective consciousness of future primary care physicians at MUSM,” said Dr. Barkin. “We are fortunate to have the strong support of our dean, Dr. Jean Sumner, an accomplished health care provider who acutely understands the importance of perinatal health to the mother, child and family unit.”

MUSM specializes in training medical students for clinical careers in primary care in rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Rural areas of the state have significantly fewer resources, especially when it comes to mental health services.

“Gaining a firm understanding of women’s mental health, especially perinatal mental health, as a medical provider is very important to me. This experience will help me to best serve my patients in the future,” Bulles added.

Originally from Barnesville, Bulles plans to practice obstetrics and gynecology in rural Georgia after completing her medical training and serving her country as a doctor in the U.S. Navy.

About Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus)

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School’s primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Atrium Health Navicent in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences and a Ph.D. in rural health sciences.

Katherine Lybarger is the marketing and communications specialist at Mercer University School of Medicine.