The American Psychiatric Association has selected Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) El Paso’s Cecilia De Vargas, M.D., as the 2022 recipient of the prestigious Agnes Purcell McGavin Award for Distinguished Career Achievement in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Dr. De Vargas will receive a plaque and $1,500 prize during the APA’s annual meeting, May 21-25 in New Orleans.
Dr. De Vargas is an associate professor in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry in TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry. She is also the program director of the university’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship and supervises fellows, residents and medical students at inpatient, outpatient and community rotations. She also participates in the Child Psychiatric Access Network (CPAN), providing consultations to pediatricians and other primary care professionals treating children and adolescents with mental health needs. TTUHSC El Paso serves as the West Texas hub for the CPAN program.
“As a person who loves children and believes children deserve the best life can offer, this award means the world to me,” Dr. De Vargas said. “It recognizes many years of dedication to the discovery of optimal ways to assess and care for children with psychological, emotional and behavioral conditions and ways to support their families.
“It validates my passion for teaching residents and fellows on the art of child and adolescent psychiatry, from the achievement of normal developmental milestones to the development of severe emotional conditions that can sometimes occur.”
Dr. De Vargas said the award reflects the support of her department, which has provided her with autonomy to work in this field while collaborating with a strong group of professionals who are ready to assist during challenging times. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship continued its functions and rotations within a safety niche promoted by the department and the university.
For Dr. De Vargas, being able to provide psychiatric care to children and adolescents is “a dream come true.”
“We’re currently facing a national mental health crisis in children, resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on an already fragile population,” she said. “Now, more than ever, we all have to unite efforts to address the crisis and prevent further deterioration. Children who suffer from psychiatric problems deserve access to the best resources to promote their recovery and fulfillment of a good life. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with this population and for all the lessons children and their families have taught me throughout the years.”
Dr. De Vargas said the idea of founding a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry on the U.S.-Mexico border started as a seed in her mind as she witnessed an overwhelming need for services for youth and families in the Borderplex, coupled with meager resources.
“It was an arduous task and a long journey, but perseverance and determination, along with outstanding support from the Department of Psychiatry and several community agencies in El Paso, prevailed and the fellowship started in July 2011,” Dr. De Vargas said.
The program has graduated 15 child and adolescent psychiatrists, the majority already with board certification in the specialty, who practice in El Paso and the Sunland Park, New Mexico area, as well as other cities in the U.S. Dr. De Vargas said the evolution of specialty clinics locally and at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso has benefited medical residents and fellows, and ultimately an El Paso-area community in need of these critical services. Four more fellows will graduate in June.
“We now have the capacity to accept many more residents and fellows to the training programs which results in coverage of a much larger population,” she said.
More About Dr. De Vargas
Dr. De Vargas received her medical education at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia, followed by training in general psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry in the U.S. Dr. De Vargas is board certified in psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry, and has been with the TTUHSC El Paso Department of Psychiatry for over 20 years.
She is passionate about disseminating a trauma-informed care and practice to all trainees to promote a safe, stigma-free, compassionate and collaborative method of caring for children, adolescents and their families.