Dr. Paula Zeanah, who has worked as a pediatric nurse and clinical psychologist in
a variety of settings, serving children and their families for more than 40 years, has been named the 2023 Distinguished Psychologist by the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA).
Spokesperson for the LPA Awards Committee, Dr. Amanda Raines said, “Dr. Zeanah is the Lafayette General Medical Center/Our Lady of Lourdes Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Nursing and Professor of Nursing at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. She has over 200 peerreviewed publications and presentations and has served as the PI on over a dozen grant-funded projects,” Raines said.
“Dr. Zeanah has a long-standing role as a teacher, trainer, and supervisor at various academic institutions and medical centers and frequently serves as an advisor and consultant on numerous state, national, and international partnerships. Further, she frequently gives back to the field by serving as a committee member of various university and department organization and, most recently, as our esteemed president of LPA,” said Raines.
Dr. Zeanah serves as the Research Director at the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development & Lifelong Learning at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her expertise includes physical and mental health; perinatal, infant, and early childhood mental health; adolescent and early adulthood sexuality; and chronic illness in children and adolescents.
She has served as Associate and Full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane School of Medicine from 1998 to 2015. Before becoming a psychologist, Dr. Zeanah worked in a variety of primary care and tertiary health care settings as a pediatric nurse, educator, and administrator.
“I am deeply honored and proud to be identified as a distinguished psychologist, Dr. Zeanah told the Times. “And, given that Louisiana benefits from the contributions of many deserving psychologists, I am also quite humbled,” she added.
“As a young professional, my work/career was important to me,” Dr. Zeanah said. “But other than 11 years of pursuing education in nursing and psychology, I did not envision a specific endpoint. I have had opportunities that enabled me to integrate nursing and psychology in ways that have been gratifying and are still interesting to me!” she said.
“For example, my dissertation, the development of a measure of sexual self-esteem for women, evolved from my experiences working as a pediatric nurse practitioner with vulnerable teenagers for whom sexuality was insufficiently addressed. The measure has been used in studies examining various aspects of sexuality in many countries around the world—that’s cool! I believe being a nurse and a clinical psychologist has given me a certain credibility when focusing on the interface of health and mental health,” Dr. Zeanah said.
She has held many positions over the years, including:
Advisory Committee, New Families: Innovation and Development of the Child Health Services in Oslo, Norway; a collaborative project, City of Oslo and University of Oslo, 2021- 2022;
Consultant, Development of Culture of Wellness Framework for Nurse Family Partnership, National Service Office, Denver, CO, 2021;
Consultant, Supporting the Child to Thrive course development, Nurse Family Partnership, National Service Office, 2020-2021;
Advisory Group, Promoting Mental Health in NFP Educational Development (PI: L. Beeber, UNC). A project of the national NFP/University of Colorado Prevention Research Center for
Family and Child Health, under the direction of D. Olds, 2012-2021; and
Innovations Advisory Committee, Mental Health Subcommittee Nurse Family Partnership, Denver, Colorado, 2017-2019.
Dr. Zeanah went on to say, “Today, that’s a huge focus of psychology, but it was not always so. I’ve been lucky to hold positions that allowed me to work ‘inter-professionally’ in
nursing, psychology, and public health, which has been exciting, fun, and enabled the development of innovative strategies to address the mental health needs of vulnerable populations including pregnant women, infants, young children, and chronically ill children and families. Currently, I am collaborating with colleagues to increase attention to ethical dilemmas in the multidisciplinary field of infant mental health.”
Dr. Zeanah further explained, “Compelling research on the importance of early experience for brain development and later health and social functioning means the needs of infants are better recognized and prioritized-yet sometimes what is beneficial to the infant may be harmful or hurtful to the parent/caregiver, and vice-versa. Figuring out how to make
appropriate clinical decisions, within the contexts of limited resources, social and cultural pressures, and personal and professional values is the challenge. Any achievements have
not occurred in a vacuum—I’ve greatly benefitted from working in some of the country’s best medical centers and universities, having inspiring and encouraging colleagues, and of course, the unwavering support of my husband, family, and friends.”
Her numerous publications include:
Zeanah, P., Korfmacher, J., Lim, I. & Zeanah, C. (in press). Introduction to special section: Doing the ‘right’ thing: Ethical issues in infant and early childhood mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal;
Zeanah, P., Steier, A., Lim, I., Korfmacher, J., & Zeanah, C. (in press). Current approaches and future directions for addressing ethics in infant and early childhood mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal;
Lim, I., Korfmacher, J. Steier, A., Zeanah, C. & Zeanah, P. (2023). The ethics of infant and early childhood mental health practice. Infant Mental Health Journal;
Zeanah, C.H., Korfmacher, J., Lim, I., Steier, A., & Zeanah, P. (2023). Ethical dilemmas in infant mental health: Examples from child protection, home visiting, and medical contexts. Infant Mental Health Journal; and
Beeber, L., Gasbarro, M., Knudtson, M., Ledford, A., Sprinkle, S., Leeman, J., McMichael, G., Zeanah, P., Mosqueda, A. (under review). A mental health innovation for nurse home
visiting program shows effectiveness in reducing depressive symptoms, Prevention Science.
The American Academy of Nursing added her to its 2021 Class of Fellows. Dr. Zeanah was the only Fellow from Louisiana selected for the 2021 class. “The Academy’s Fellows embody our values of equity, diversity and inclusivity, inquiry, integrity, and courage, which enable us to achieve new heights of impact that advance health policy across the globe,” noted Dr. Eileen Sullivan-Marx, the organization’s president. Dr. Zeanah joins an elite group that now comprises more than 2,900 experts in policy, research, administration, practice, and academia who champion health and wellness.
“Nursing is a profession that values and relies upon research to inform practice,” Dr. Zeanah explained. “There’s never been more expertise in the field, or as comprehensive a commitment to health and wellness, which makes it an exceptionally good time to be a nurse.”
Dr. Zeanah’s grants, contracts, and development activities include:
Zeanah, P. (PI; Co-PI’s L. Asare, C. Suire). Clinical Decision-Making in Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting: Does implicit Bias Play a Role? New Horizons Grant, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, $18,690 February 2023-January 2024;
Zeanah, P. (PI). The Culture of Nurse Wellness in the Nurse-Family Partnership, Nurse-Family Partnership National Service Office, $7840.00, March –September 2021. The purpose of this contract was to develop wellness education and resources for the national Nurse-Family Partnership program; and
Zeanah, P. (Local PI, Co-Investigator; L. Beeber, UNC, PI). Mental Health Integration to Nurse- Family Partnership, Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation, $74,188, January 2018-July 2021. Supports the development, implementation, and evaluation of the maternal mental health educational program for the national Nurse Family Partnership program.
Dr. Zeanah told the Times, “I truly appreciate the opportunities I’ve had through the years as a member of LPA to meet and work with so many strong psychologists, and to learn and grow professionally. This past year, I had the honor to serve as LPA’s President. More than ever, I am impressed by the myriad ways Louisiana psychologists are ‘advancing psychology as a science, as a profession, and as means of promoting human welfare.’ ”
What does she hope to accomplish in the future? “Sometimes I laugh about wanting to be a People’s Health Champion,” Dr. Zeanah said. “I’ve always been so impressed and energized by the accomplishments of those over 65! But truthfully, I do not have a list of specific things I want to accomplish. I do want to stay involved and to be useful—by that I mean I want to continue to contribute in meaningful ways to our profession through clinical service, scholarly activities, and involvement in professional activities,” she said.
“With a healthy balance of spending more time with my most important accomplishments—my children and grandchildren!”