This Doc Is Proving You Don’t Have to Follow the Rules

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Session 260

Dr. Denise McDermott is a psychiatrist in private practice who is doing things differently. Listen to her story and see what you can do differently on your journey.

Go to and sign up to be notified when our next book will be released. I’m doing a book with Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). We’re publishing The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT.

[02:05] Her Interested in Medicine

Denise wanted to be a doctor even back in kindergarten and she spent until third year in college, challenging herself whether she should do biochem or molecular biology. She got a scholarship to possibly get a PhD. And so she thought it was a better fit for her.

Denise saw her uncle as a huge role model. His uncle is a dermatologist and he was hoping that she would come in to medical school. As a pleaser that she is, she remembers going to her medical school rotations and she did an article so she could shine like a start and become a dermatologist. But that topic just sat in her backpack because it didn’t excite her.

[Tweet “”The most important thing when you’re going through your rotations in medical school to keep an open mind.””]

What drove her to pick psychiatry is another story. Denise says that if you’re going through your rotations in medical school, you have to keep an open mind. She envisioned herself doing pediatrics. She also loved Emergency Medicine and as she got through the rotations, she got an A in surgery.

Then one day as she went through her Peds rotation, she met a little girl complaining about stomachache. And when she started talking to her, she started telling her she’s being bullied at school. She had just moved to the States from Africa. She had other kids just making fun of her skin color. And she told her that she was trying to kill herself that morning and that’s why her stomach was aching.

And what happened was all her rotations started being like this.

If you’re just really being human and really connecting with someone on a soul to soul level when you’re taking their history and they trust you, people will tell you what is going on. The through her internal medicine rotations, a man lost 40 pound and no one knew why. It turned out he was an alcoholic.

So Denise would come out of the rooms and a lot of these patients had a lot of behavioral health issues and some are suicidal. This being said, Denise stresses the importance of picking a mentor that you look up to and see if during that rotation, you can get guidance to really help you have some clear path to make that really important decision.

[Tweet “”Pick a mentor that you look up to and see if during that rotation, you can get guidance to really help you have some clear path to make that really important decision.””]

[06:02] The Hardest Part of Medical School

Denise describes her first semester of medical school as a huge shift from undergrad. She had straight A’s in high school. It was tough for her doing the gross anatomy since she wasn’t much of a 3-D learner. So she thought it was really hard.

Her mom knew that she was having a tough time so she drove eight hours to see her. And she brought her this little plant. And she thought how could she take care of patients when she doesn’t even know if she could keep a plant alive.

But now, she has three kids, two cats, two rats, a hamster, and a full-practice. And she’s now doing all the other things. So even if you go through a tough time, it can get better.

The second other time that was really tough for her was during her first internship. It was first year of medical school transition and she started those first set of rotations. She had a hard time dealing with patients who were dying. And they had thirteen people to die that month and they were supposed to.

Denise says you have to take care of yourself. When you’re dealing with that many sick patients and you’ve never been around that much death, you need to prepare yourself. You need to get out and get fresh air. You need to get exercise. You need to make sure you eat well.

[Tweet “”A lot of times doctors don’t take the best care of themselves. Start your routines now and know your own weaknesses and strengths going into it.””]

This being said, she couldn’t imagine doing any other way. She has seen 40,000 hours worth of patients and she has been in the lives of a lot of people. She loves it. She knows that the next step of her career was bigger than her.

[09:39] Where She Leaned Into for Information

Denise explains that she just followed her own inner voice. She had her uncle. And honestly, her uncle discouraged her to go into medicine with all the changes. But at that point, she just knew she wanted to be a doctor and she wanted to help.

Her father’s alcoholism and he almost died. He was in the intensive care unit and he had delirium tremens. So she grew up in a home dealing with alcoholism. And seeing her dad  getting sober when he was eleven years old and living for another thirty years was something that inspired her. So she had this natural inclination to take the shame away.

Ever since, all her friends would call her for advice. So as to why she decided to get into medicine. First, she loves science. Second, she loves helping other people. Third, she had the experience of her father getting sober and she just loved helping when people called.

[12:15] Keeping Herself in a Different World

Denise loves her practice where she has two offices. She did this for quality of life. She has been in practice since 2001. She sees 60% children and teens, and 40% adults.

[Tweet “”Make sure you set your intentions of how much fitness you want to get, how much fun you want. Prioritize your family when you’re making different career decisions.””]

Denise also acknowledges the shortage of psychiatrists in the U.S., especially child psychiatrists. There are only 8,300 child psychiatrists for millions of children. So they really need an intervention because 50% of all lifelong mental health issues start before age 14. So if you have any inclination to psychiatry, Denise pleads that you consider adult and child psychiatry because they need more people.

From doing a really lovely private practice, Denise went into this path where she met a publicist and she wanted her to go to CNN. What she did was she built a content-driven site, It has blogs and videos. She co-produced the meditation and psychiatry documentary this year. She also feels very fortunate to be invited to go to India in 2016 where she went to Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Conference. She got to spend ten days with the coolest humanitarian monk. She went to a children’s orphanage and donated money there. She got to see how people are treated in India as well as the holistic approach of prevention, good nutrition, and sleep. Denise is very passionate about holistic health and prevention. She seeks to help people stay out of her office.

And she wanted to meet other cool people, who are movers and shakers in the world. So she wrote out a spiritual missions statement. She wanted to integrate more kindness and compassion into medicine and into everything they do in their lives. And as she started to write these down, she thought of how she can integrate these ideas into schools, and hospitals. It’s essentially about being mindful and being kind and loving.

Since she started her podcast, she now has 32 shows. Then she took her blog post and made them into a book called, Mental Health and How to Thrive. And she set an intention to have some blogs about India. She cites the importance of being a western medicine trained doctor to go to India. And so she wrote an ebook about this.

[Tweet “”The goal is to change the way we think, talk, and act about mental health and collective well-being.””]

[16:28] Cool People She Has Met and Her Biggest Inspiration

Denise’s first guest was an MMA fighter, Gary Goodridge.  And many men don’t want to talk about mental health. Gary had a depression and dementia because back in the day, he had three fights in one night. So on this journey of doing this podcast, she had interviewed a professional athlete. She’s also good friends with an NBA player in China right now who’s doing a yoga and fitness documentary. She also met with the oracle of Tibet.

In short, she’s doing what she set out to do which is meet other people who don’t want to talk about what they’re doing but just want to be the change and inspire one another. So she cut back her practice to do a much bigger calling. And for her, the biggest teacher in her life right now is her son who has inspired her to take care career to the next level. She adopted her son at birth.

[Tweet “”I’m walking the walk. Not only am I a child psychiatrist who trained at UCLA… but then I went eyes wide open into adopting this beautiful boy.””]

For people with different learning styles or behavior, Denise doesn’t like the word “disorder.” It was very illness-focused instead of wellness-focused. But she now likes to use words like neuro style. The other thing she had done is that she has always imaged assets with different words that vibrated on a non-judgmental level. So she wants to reach people on a global level.

[19:10] How You Can Figure Things Out as a Premed

Denise highly recommends starting your LinkedIn account. Build your brand now. Pursue something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t necessarily have to be medicine-focused. If you’re really working hard at your academics and churning out the A’s you need to or doing your fitness but you want a creative outlet, you can start your own show at any time. People are doing YouTube videos at such young ages. Be true to yourself and don’t do it just for the sake of doing it. But do it because that’s what you want to do.

[Tweet “”When you’re studying that hard to get into medical school, you need to take care of yourself. The more you take of yourself, the better doctor you will evolve to be.””]

[20:30] Dealing with Negativity and Getting a Strong Support System

Denise says her husband has always called her a corner case because she doesn’t talk about what she’s doing to other people. Growing up in the mid-west, she was brought up not telling a lot of people. She doesn’t pitch herself. She hasn’t had any resistance but by the nature of her being on her own solo, she hasn’t drawn attention to it. She’s just happy for having amazing colleagues but she thinks that if she had been working full-time at Kaiser or something, people would probably judge her. But she wants people to understand that her site offers a lot of education.

[Tweet “”For people who can’t afford to come see me, you will find so much information on my site – what to do, what to expect. I feel like this is an act of public service.””]

Denise’s husband is very supportive of her. He works from home and has done some startups. An incredibly devoted father as she would describe him, he is at home at all times. And she is very happy about this since they have the flexibility they wouldn’t have had if he was working 9-5. But the way their family system is lined up is they set their priorities to be there for their kid.  So when she went to India, he watched over their son. And she’s just thankful for her husband for helping her out, including the tech stuff, and for believing in her.

[23:45] How She Sees Medicine to Fit Into Her Life

Denise hopes to keep her long-term patients. She just turned down 25 new clients in the last month because she was pitching a show. So she sees herself continuing seeing her existing patients. And she hopes to see them about two days per week.

Additionally, she’s very passionate about getting the word out . She’s about to do some YouTube videos with her childhood friend who won an Emmy for her journalism. And they’re just about to record their first podcast, Staying Sane. So she’s doing this aside from her other show, The Dr. Denise Show. With all the crazy things happening around us, she wants to take what her friend knows as a journalist and what she knows about tips in mindfulness and mindset strategies.

[Tweet “”I really want to reach a global audience. I see my private practice being there but I see that this other part of my career is really where it’s at right now.””]

[25:40] Final Words of Wisdom for Premeds

You need to make sure this is the right path. She remembers this man named Trevor in her medical school class and he got into third year not wanting to be a doctor. He was doing it due to family pressure. So he picked a career path based on what his parents wanted him to do.

[Tweet “”Really make sure that this is what you want to do, not what someone is telling you what you should do.””]

That being said, know that everyone struggles. Everyone doubts themselves no matter what kind of incredible grades you’re getting. You’re going to have a tough day. Remember that it’s not always going to be positive. You’re not always going to get the A’s that you’re maybe used to.

Having played varsity soccer all four years in high school, her athletic mindset of discipline and perseverance has really helped her through medical school and through residency and fellowship.

[27:05] Sign Up for My New Book!

Don’t forget to go to and sign up for the wait list to be notified when The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT comes out. It’s coming out soon!

Join us next week as I talk to a student who went from a 2.7 undergrad GPA to now being a first year medical school at an allopathic medical school. I know some of you are still worried about getting into an MD school versus a DO school. So stay tuned.


Mental Health and How to Thrive

Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)

The Dr. Denise Show