SHUICHI SUETANI

Shuichi is a community psychiatrist in Brisbane, Queensland. He has recently completed the psychiatry fellowship in February this year. He is also currently completing a PhD under the supervision of Professor John McGrath and Associate Professor James Scott, exploring the relationship between physical activity and mental disorders using epidemiological data.

Tell me about yourself and your background, how did you find out about the opportunity to pursue your research career through QCMHR? 

When I was growing up, I had little interest in research and I actually quit my undergraduate Neuroscience degree after a semester because I found it too “scientific”. Instead, I completed a degree in Statistics before entering Medical School at Otago University in New Zealand.

After I started psychiatry training in Adelaide, I managed to write and publish a couple of case reports in the Psychiatry College journals. I got into a habit of collecting interesting cases and reading up around them as part of my preparation to psychiatry examinations, so it didn’t take much more for me to write up short case reports for publications.

In 2014, while I was doing my child and adolescence psychiatry rotation, Associate Professor James Scott came to Adelaide as an invited speaker to talk about his research on bullying. I introduced myself to him after the talk, and James encouraged me to apply for the Research-Registrar Fellowship in Queensland. Even though I wasn’t quite advanced enough in my training, I thought it would be really cool to be interviewed by Professor John McGrath (whose papers I tried to memorize for my exams), and I could brag to my mates about it. I ended up getting the job offer.

So, in 2015, we moved to Brisbane to commence on the two year West Moreton Research Registrar Fellowship. The Fellowship allowed me to continue my psychiatry training fulltime, while having 0.5 protected research time. That’s how I ended up starting my PhD under A/Prof Scott and Professor McGrath.

 What does your research look at and what inspired you to pursue this project in particular?

 Clinically, I work as a community psychiatrist specializing in psychosis. Ideally, I would love to see (and be able to prescribe) the next clozapine, or something that will work better than existing antipsychotic medications. The next best thing we can do for now is to make it as easy and acceptable as possible for our patients to take the medications that are beneficial. So, I am interested in trying to find out ways to manage the unwanted side effects of the medications that we prescribe, and physical health happens to suffer a lot with long term antipsychotic use. This is also why I am doing my research in this area.

My research examines the relationship between mental disorders and physical activity status using three large Australian population studies (the Survey of High Impact Psychosis study, the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing Study, and the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy). 

Why is this topic important and what do you hope will come out of your project? 

Ultimately, I chose my topic because it was something practical and I felt that the knowledge I gain from doing it will be applicable to my clinical practice.

I also hope that my completing a PhD will encourage other psychiatry trainees and psychiatrists to do the same. I think there is still a significant gap between what researchers study and what psychiatrists treat. If psychiatry as a medical profession is to progress further, this gap needs to be eliminated. My fantasy is to see the public mental health services in Queensland create a work environment in which psychiatrists are both encouraged and supported to do research within their clinical practice. 

Where to from here, what are your plans for your future as a researcher?

I’ve recently read a book called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. One particular piece of advice I took out of the book was that you can estimate how much your craft is worth by other people’s willingness to pay for the time for you to do the craft.

So, despite my fantasy, I try to be realistic about my future as a researcher. Obviously, people are happy for me to do a PhD. I do chunks of it in the hours before I leave for work in the morning and after my children go to bed at night anyway, and nobody’s really paying me to do it. Once I finish my PhD, I will look for someone who is willing to pay for my time to do research, and if I don’t find anyone, I will probably go back to doing my day job. Regardless of what ends up happening to my research career, I do believe that the skills I am learning in completing my PhD will help me become a more effective psychiatrist for my patients, and that, I hope, will in turn improve their prognoses.