Vinson says people didn’t speak about mental health in the small northwest Florida town where she was raised. After moving to Gainesville to attend UF, she began learning the language surrounding psychiatry and made connections within her own history.
“When (former UF psychiatry chair) Mark Gold, M.D. ’75, gave a lecture on the neurobiology of addiction, it helped me understand why people I knew and loved acted differently under different circumstances,” she says. “I realized it didn’t always have to end up the same way for those people.”
Vinson credits Gold, along with Donna Parker, M.D. ’90, and Richard Christensen, M.D., for not only teaching her about medicine, but teaching her to believe in herself. Their encouragement paid off, and when selected as one of UF’s 2018 Outstanding Young Alumnus, she was humbled by the honor.
“I really struggled my first semester of medical school. I was wondering, ‘am I cut out to be a physician?’ There were faculty here who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she says. “To go from someone questioning whether they belong here to receiving the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award reinforces the profound sense of gratitude I have for the faculty at UF.”
Vinson graduated from the UF College of Medicine in 2007 after being admitted through the Medical Honors Program. While at UF, she served as president of the Student National Medical Association and the Medical College Council. She went on to complete a residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and fellowships in both child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. While a resident at Harvard, Vinson began to focus on the social and political factors that contribute to mental illness, particularly in minority populations.
“I saw these social justice issues of criminalizing mental illness along racial lines. On a population level, black families have the stress of racism, higher incidence of trauma and greater exposure to more negative social determinants of health,” she says. “As people in a marginalized minority group, you have less room for error.”