Dr. Lloyd Sederer: From Chief Medical Officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health to Founder, Officer, Advisor, Writer and More.
Why did you step back from full-time employment?
I didn’t do that exactly. I cut back on the time I was spending at my full-time job and added a whole new slate of activities to my days (and nights!). I served for 12 years as the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the New York State Office of Mental Health, the nation’s largest state mental health system. I thought it was time to start working on other things, but my boss convinced me to stay involved, so I cut back to about 80% and I’m still serving with a fancy Advisory title. I wanted to teach and work on other things too – all essentially related to public (and population) mental health and addictions.
What surprised you most about the transition?
That I’m busier than ever. Not that it should have surprised me, given my approach to work.
What are you doing now?
Quite a few projects. I’m writing books (I have another one, a memoir with essays, about to be released). I am Chief Medical Officer for a media company, Chair of the Advisory Board for an addiction and mental health solutions platform, founder and director of the Columbia Psychiatry Media Center at Columbia Med (where I have been teaching a workshop for psychiatric residents and fellows, faculty and neuroscientists on medical writing for the lay public), Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University School of Public Health, Chief Medical Officer of a company whose platform is to help health care (and other professionals weather the extraordinary demands of Covid-19, and other disasters), and Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of a platform for peer support among varied groups of people. Whew, makes me tired to even say all those jobs!
How did you decide to pursue these opportunities?
As I talk about in my upcoming memoir, Ink Stained for Life: Coming of Age in the 1950’s, A Bronx Tale, I formed a work ethic at the age of eight, first sorting and assembling newspapers on weekends at my father’s stationery store. After the papers were done, I swept floors, dusted shelves and stocked inventory. When I was 10, I graduated to the cash register — but only after the chores were finished. Decades later, while the activities have changed, my being programmed for work has not. If anything, it has grown. I suppose success has reinforced it, but that has come too arduously and incrementally over a long period of time to account for my behavior. The constant seems to be the bone-deep need to get up and work. And for me, work has always been a rich source of meaning and purpose.
What advice would you give to someone for their career?
Find the hardest job you can (but not an impossible one). Take it on and master it.
Then, do that again – and then again. Don’t plan things, just move on to the next challenge when you achieve what you set out to do. That’s how you can stay alive and build a successful and rewarding career.
Given your vast experience both professionally and personally, do you have a top 5 or 10 list of things that you would tell people if they would like to follow in your footsteps or follow a similar path?
I’ve got a set of guiding “rules,” that my wife calls “The Laws of Lloyd.” I try to follow my own counsel, and sometimes succeed:
Just Say No
Don’t let anyone talk you into a Bordeaux when there is a good Burgundy to be had
Dr. Lloyd Sederer is an Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and Director of Columbia Psychiatry Media. Dr. Sederer served for 12 years as the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the New York State Office of Mental Health, the nation’s largest state mental health system, where he continues as Distinguished Psychiatrist Advisor. He has been Executive Deputy Commissioner for Mental Hygiene Services in New York City (the “chief” psychiatrist for NYC), Medical Director and Executive Vice President of McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA (a Harvard teaching hospital), and Director of the Division of Clinical Services for the American Psychiatric Association. He has led the mental health disaster responses to 9/11 (as mental health commissioner in NYC), called Project Liberty, Hurricane Sandy (as NYS MH CMO) and other disasters. You can check out his books here. His new book, Ink Stained for Life: Coming of Age in the 1950’s, A Bronx Tale is now available for order.