Grace Choi and Jayla Head

Two Master of Family Therapy Students Selected for Prestigious Minority Fellowship Program

ATLANTA – Mercer University School of Medicine Master of Family Therapy (MFT) students Grace Choi and Jayla Head, M.S., were recently accepted to the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP-Y) offered by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The MFP for doctoral-level students was created in 2007 at the AAMFT Research and Education Foundation, whose mission is to fund systemic and relational research, scholarship and education in an effort to support and enhance the practice of systemic and relational therapies; advance the healthcare continuum; and improve client outcomes. SAMHSA began to fund the program in 2008.

In 2014, SAMHSA expanded the Minority Fellowship Program to include the MFP-Youth for master’s-level students.

The MFP-Y program aims to increase the number of culturally competent master’s-level trained behavioral health professionals available to serve children, adolescents and youth transitioning into adulthood, ages 16-25.

Fellows receive a stipend and supplemental training focusing on issues of substance abuse and prevention as well as providing mental health services to minority youth populations in a culturally competent manner with an evidence-based practice approach.

Choi earned her undergraduate degree from Florida State University with a major in family and child sciences.

Inspired by her own life experiences, she hopes to work with immigrant and refugee populations, especially adolescents and emerging adults that come from communities where more risk factors predispose them to mental health and substance disorders. In addition, she hopes to improve access to mental health services for second-generation adolescents from immigrant and refugee families and to help put into words how it feels to grow up in two cultures.

“Grace Choi is one of our shining students whose academic excellence has secured her the SAMHSA/AAMFT Minority Fellowship,” said Dr. Carla Smith, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and assistant program director of Mercer’s MFT program. “She shows wonderful promise as a budding couple and family therapist and is also a trusted member of her cohort. I am very pleased, but not surprised Grace was chosen for this amazing award. She has a keen eye toward culturally responsive treatment for marginalized communities.”

Head earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri with a major in psychology.

As an aspiring clinician, she is working to acquire the skills needed to work with diverse communities and gain both professional and interpersonal competence in clinical, community and academic settings. In addition to marriage and family therapy, she also hopes to someday start a nonprofit organization that informs marginalized communities about the importance of mental health, especially in the African American community where seeking therapy remains taboo.

“Jayla is one of our new students who impressed us from the start,” said Dr. Smith. “She has demonstrated academic excellence in the past and shows a clear plan to continue that level of scholarship in our master’s program. Jayla has mapped out a plan to bring competent, compassionate care to underserved communities throughout Atlanta. We are happy she’s chosen to continue her studies with us and look forward to learning more about her.”

Both students are dedicated to expanding the delivery of culturally competent mental health and substance abuse services to underserved minority populations. Choi is in her second year and Head is in her first year in Mercer’s MFT program.

“I am incredibly proud of the two students from our Atlanta campus, Grace and Jayla, who were awarded this prestigious and competitive national fellowship from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association,” said Dr. Andrea S. Meyer Stinson, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and interim program director of the MFT program.

“Our MFT program is driven by our mission to transform our students into competent, compassionate and ethical professionals who can meet the needs of individuals, couples, families and communities, including the rural and underserved. By completing the AAMFT Minority Fellowship, Grace and Jayla will be prepared to provide culturally competent behavioral health services to minority communities and address disparities that exist in access and quality of mental health services.”

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, Navicent Health 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.