One Student’s Journey with Destigmatizing Mental Health | PCOM
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Turning Loss into Purpose 
One Student’s Journey with Destigmatizing Mental Health


May 26, 2023

Vicki Ouzounian, PsyD ’26, and her late grandfatherTwo weeks after her grandfather passed, Vicki Ouzounian, PsyD ’26, received the news that she was admitted to PCOM. She enrolled as a way to honor his memory and help others facing difficult situations that could affect their mental health.

“My grandpa had dementia and passed away from it,” said Ouzounian. “He was my closest confidant. When he got sick, I tried to figure out what dementia meant, what memory loss was, and how it impacted his life. It completely changed my career path because I wanted to learn more about what was going on with him.”

For Ouzounian and her loved ones, it was difficult to navigate a health crisis without proper knowledge of the issue. “He didn’t have help because nobody knew much about psychology within my family,” she shared. “I decided I would try and be the person to help others with that moving forward.”

Ouzounian is now a PsyD liaison for PCOM HEARTS. Since 2016, the student-run organization has partnered with countless groups in the Philadelphia community to serve local, medically underserved populations. In previous years, the organization was led mostly by Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) students, but now psychology students are able to join as mental health support services and psychology clinics are being offered.

Members of PCOM Hearts pose by an event table“Opportunities weren’t absent before, but they’re expanded upon now,” said Ashley Poole, PsyD ’20, assistant professor, clinical psychology, and PCOM HEARTS faculty advisor. “Oftentimes, the community is able to see physical health. Now, because of the pairing of medical and psychology students, I think this will help destigmatize mental health and showcase all healthcare providers.”

Poole emphasizes that there is space to talk about mental health too. The main goal for members of the organization moving forward is to help other people realize that.

“Anybody can tell you if they have high blood pressure or are diabetic,” said Ouzounian. “They’re aware because it’s common to get help for it. When you start talking to them about how anxiety can impact their blood pressure, there’s kind of like that lightbulb moment that you see. They look at you and finally understand that mental health is a part of health. Seeing that realization has been really amazing.”

By focusing on helping people in small ways, Ouzounian and PCOM HEARTS are looking forward to the future. Hoping to welcome new members, they want to continue promoting learning outside the classroom and destigmatizing an important topic.

“I get so excited talking about mental health,” said Ouzounian. “I will do it forever.”

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  • About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

    For the past 125 years, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM, a private, not-for-profit accredited institution of higher education, operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, and school psychology. The college also offers graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, physician assistant studies, and school psychology. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.

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