The Physician Spotlight Series is an opportunity to highlight the value and expertise of VirtualMed Staff’s team of physicians. Throughout this series, our goal is to share our physicians’ stories, their journeys with telemedicine, and detail the value and benefits that telemedicine offers to patients across the country.
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, take something positive from that experience.”
That was the advice of Dr. Tanya Scurry’s mother, and in many ways, it’s the advice that set her on the journey towards where she is today – an advocate for telepsychiatry. “If the mental health system doesn’t embrace what telemedicine can do, then we’re missing a huge opportunity that will cost lives,” says Dr. Scurry. “And it doesn’t have to be that way.”
With nearly two decades of experience, Dr. Scurry is a Psychiatrist with VirtualMed Staff who currently serves on multiple physician panels across the country. Throughout Dr. Scurry’s career, the common thread that pushed her towards telepsychiatry is its ability to provide access to mental health resources for patients with limited or no access; a passion born during rotation abroad in Waterford, Ireland.
The beginnings of a life-long passion
Dr. Scurry will be the first to admit that Psychiatry wasn’t the career path she was initially interested in. In fact, Dr. Scurry began her career in medicine as a Pharmacist before deciding to make the commitment to go to Medical School. “It was a huge commitment,” says Dr. Scurry, “But I knew if I didn’t do it, I would regret it.”
After enrolling in medical school in the Caribbean, Dr. Scurry had the good fortunate to travel abroad to Waterford, Ireland for rotation.
“About once or twice a month, we would drive for hours to the outskirts of these rural towns to provide psychiatric care to these really ill patients,” reflects Dr. Scurry. For many of these rural patients, the only resource available to them for care and support came from their immediate family. “Imagine being so psychiatrically ill out in the middle of nowhere and all you have is your family to try and hold you together?”
It was during these sessions that Dr. Scurry started to develop an appreciation for the work and service they were providing. “I realized that it doesn’t matter if you’re Irish, or European, or American, mental health is mental health, and struggles are struggles.”
After completing medical school, Dr. Scurry enrolled at the University of Kansas for residency. It was there that Dr. Scurry participated in an opportunity to work with a double board-certified physician who specialized in pain management. At the time, this physician was doing something very rare: Providing telemedicine to rural areas of Kansas for people on pain management.
“What really stood out to me was the accessibility. Now, people that live in these rural areas, like the ones I traveled to in Ireland, could have access to mental health care.” Dr. Scurry vividly remembers thinking, “This is the future; this is how we get care to people.”
It wasn’t long after graduation before Dr. Scurry began seeking opportunities to continue providing better access to psychiatric care to those in need.
“This is the future; this is how we get care to people”
The promise of telemedicine is its ability to bring quality healthcare to patients whenever and wherever it’s needed. However, prior to the surge in adoption brought on by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, telemedicine was still not widely utilized. Despite this, Dr. Scurry sought out opportunities to provide telepsychiatry to patients with limited access at every opportunity.
Early in her career, Dr. Scurry accepted a position at the Department of Veterans Affair (VA) in California. There, she petitioned for expanded telemedicine access for patients in remote areas with little to no accessibility, but it fell on deaf ears. “They only let one doctor do it,” says Dr. Scurry. “There were plenty of people out there who didn’t have transportation, family, money for a bus, or were so depressed they couldn’t leave their house, but the telemedicine program couldn’t be expanded to help them.”
Undeterred, Dr. Scurry says these roadblocks gave her the motivation to go elsewhere to find opportunities that were open to telemedicine. “I cannot tell you how fortuitous life is at times, and the opportunities that present themselves,” says Dr. Scurry.
An opportunity presented itself to practice telepsychiatry for the state hospital system at Coalinga State Hospital. Due to its remote location, Coalinga was having difficulty recruiting on-site physicians, and couldn’t keep up with the number of annual patient evaluations. Dr. Scurry was offered a chance to practice telepsychiatry and quickly saw nearly 300 patients in a matter of months via telepsychiatry. After this success, Dr. Scurry was offered the opportunity to run the Admissions and Behavioral Unit at Coalinga State Hospital, where she remained for six years.
“Every day, I thought about how fortunate I felt to be in at the ground floor for something that is now taking off,” says Dr. Scurry.
That fortune continues with Dr. Scurry’s work with VirtualMed Staff.
The common thread
The common thread throughout Dr. Scurry’s medical career is the pursuit to bring care to patients in remote areas. From the outskirts of Waterford, Ireland, to the rural parts of Kansas and California, Dr. Scurry’s passion for delivering care to communities in need is part of the reason telemedicine is as widespread and adopted today.
“We’ve seen with this pandemic that if we don’t embrace other avenues to delivering care, we’re going to lose people,” says Dr. Scurry.
VirtualMed Staff is fortunate to have dedicated physicians with the same passion and drive to bring quality care wherever and whenever it’s needed. As a valued member of VirtualMed Staff’s team of virtual physicians, we’re thankful to Dr. Scurry for allowing us to share her story and look forward to sharing more in the future.