Catherine Zahn, PhD, is not your average behavioral health professional. Trained as a neurologist at the University of Toronto, she specializes in epilepsy and has a long track record in leading large, multi-faceted healthcare facilities on both the clinical and management sides.
But this, Zahn feels, is exactly what makes her the perfect candidate for her new role as CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. As Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, CAMH is a leader in behavioral health research and education, as well as a renowned treatment center that is currently undergoing a multi-phase redevelopment of its 27-acre Queen Street site to create "a new kind of hospital."
Zahn's experience as a neuroscience researcher, professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and hospital-network administrator who has successfully led staff through a large redevelopment project more than qualified her for the role, which she accepted in December 2009. Having spent the last few years of her career as the executive vice president of clinical programs and practice at the University Hospital Network, Zahn is excited to again serve a familiar patient population of which she is particularly passionate about at CAMH.
"My own patient population is very much an overlap; many of my patients actually have development abnormalities or mental illness, be it depression, addictions, alcohol issues, or eating disorders," Zahn says. "To me, coming to a mental illness facility is actually bringing me back to my roots because I went away from it a little bit when I was leading a multi-faceted health science center."
Using science to break down stigma
Zahn's expertise in the relationship between physical diseases and brain science will allow CAMH to continue to be at the forefront of developing new ways to approach and understand treatment for behavioral health patients.
"At this moment in time, there's a great deal of appreciation of brain activity, function, and dysfunction in combination with environmental factors that lead to mental illness," she says. "So it's very important to understand that some of the techniques we use to understand physical brain diseases are also referable to understanding what the abnormalities or changes are in brain activity that leads to mental illness."
Expanding the facility's research endeavors is something that Zahn hopes will be part of the legacy she leaves behind at CAMH. "I think there's so much that we don't know about the causes and the modifiers of mental illness and addiction," she says. "It's critical that we are able to raise the awareness of the need for enhanced research, and one of the important aspects of my vision is to expand our research enterprise. …