Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Director, Community Psychiatry Outpatient Program, The Johns Hopkins Hospital
As a high school student in Ireland, Bernadette Cullen received coaching from her uncle, a career guidance counselor, about areas that might be good for her to think about. One of them was medicine.
She attended a six-year bachelor’s degree/medical school program at Trinity College in Dublin. Cullen did think about a career in psychiatry but didn’t particularly enjoy her psychiatry rotation, so when she finished medical school she pursued a residency in family practice. As part of that experience, Cullen had a six-month rotation in community adult psychiatry with St. Loman’s Hospital in Dublin. Everything clicked.
“It was a new program for community psychiatry and I highly enjoyed it,” Cullen says. “It was a great multidisciplinary team approach, and I really felt part of the team.”
At that point, she was halfway through her family practice residency. She finished this residency, then entered and completed a psychiatry residency in Ireland. After that, she moved to Baltimore with her husband and did a research fellowship in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and a community psychiatry clinical fellowship at Johns Hopkins before joining the faculty in 2001. She became director of the Community Psychiatry Outpatient Program in 2003, providing administrative and clinical oversight for all staff.
“My heart has always been with the community psychiatry population, particularly the chronically mentally ill,” Cullen says. “I get great satisfaction out of working with them. They’re a great group of patients who demonstrate an amazing resilience given many of the stresses that they have in their lives in addition to their mental illness.”
In this role, Cullen has instituted a number of initiatives and services including an intensive outpatient program, an assertive community psychiatry program (ACT), an advisory board, a campaign to encourage patients to stop smoking, “telepsychiatry” appointments for urgent situations for patients in ACT, and standardized assessments for all patients.
She also supports research studies of Johns Hopkins investigators and conducts some of her own research, such as investigating automated text messages to help prevent relapse in patients with schizophrenia and how to decrease appointment no-show rates among community psychiatry patients. One of her recent studies found that individuals with schizophrenia were more likely to live longer if they took their antipsychotic drugs on schedule and regularly saw their mental health professional.
In 2017, Cullen took on an additional role within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, as vice chair for clinical affairs. Here, her day-to-day activities include communicating with the faculty about any ongoing clinical endeavors or issues, and developing initiatives to improve clinical services throughout the department. This year at The Johns Hopkins Hospital she formed a Constant Observation (CO) Workgroup to review and redefine the process of when and how inpatients are put on CO, and a Discharge Initiative Workgroup to streamline the discharge process across the inpatient units. She also established a Psychotherapy Training Initiative Committee to review current psychotherapy training levels among outpatient and inpatient hospital therapists and social work staff at both the East Baltimore and Bayview campuses. As part of Johns Hopkins’ Clinical Communities, she is involved in a project to decrease readmissions at both The Johns Hopkins Hospital and other Johns Hopkins medical centers in the Baltimore-Washington area, including Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Howard County General Hospital, Sibley Memorial Hospital and Suburban Hospital.
“I want to make sure we’re continuing to provide the highest quality care for our patients,” she says. “We’re doing a lot of quality-related initiatives, trying to improve things and make sure that we’re at our best.”