As a psychiatry resident at UB in the late 1990s, James Waxmonsky found himself in the right place at the right time.
Right time because, just as he was developing an interest in child psychiatry and clinical pharmacology, scientists were evaluating new medications for children with ADHD.
Right place because many of those clinical trials were taking place in Buffalo.
Yet it took the right department to coalesce this coincidence into a career-making opportunity for the second-year resident. With his psychiatry mentors’ guidance, Waxmonsky was invited to help conduct the groundbreaking research.
“I was involved in these trials from the beginning, and I took on a very active role,” he recalls. “By examining the benefits and side effects of these new medications in children, I was functioning—with a lot of supervision—as a study physician.”
Today, as an associate professor of psychiatry at Florida International University, Waxmonsky is leading one of the largest single-site studies of pediatric ADHD: the first randomized trial examining the impact of stimulant medication on the growth trajectories of children with the disorder.
“Everything I do stems from those initial research experiences during residency,” says Waxmonsky.
“My interest in academic research crystallized during residency, and it was because UB fostered that interest and found opportunities for me.”
Waxmonsky’s association with UB’s psychiatry department began when he was a UB medical student. Originally eyeing surgery as a specialty, he found himself captivated by the psychiatry faculty’s lectures and their empathetic approach to patient care.
When it came time to select psychiatry residencies, he ranked UB first.
“There’s a breadth of resources in UB’s residency, yet it’s small enough that there are always people looking out for you,” he says.
“Residents are never viewed as a burden, which sometimes happens in other programs. You don’t ever feel like you have to compete or step over people to get what you need.”
Although the research track now offered in residency didn’t exist when Waxmonsky trained at UB, his residency director cultivated one for him. In addition to introducing him to the principal investigator leading the ADHD drug trials, she carved time out of Waxmonsky’s schedule so he could help conduct the research.
“My experience with UB is that the faculty work hard to expose residents to different things, to nurture your interests and to create flexibility in your schedule so you can pursue them.”
After residency, Waxmonsky began a fellowship in child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
Entering the program, he wondered it he’d be outmatched by colleagues who’d graduated from Harvard’s psychiatry residency, widely considered one of the best in the country.
Instead, he discovered the opposite.
“I felt as prepared clinically as the people who had gone through the Harvard system,” he says. “In fact, I had more hands-on experience with kids than the residents of their own program.”
Upon completing his fellowship, Waxmonsky joined Harvard’s faculty and considered a long-term career there. At the same time, he fielded offers from several other institutions.
Ultimately, he decided to return to his alma mater.
“Most programs that I’d considered were only going to give me limited research support, but UB gave me the most support and free time for my research,” he says. “They were willing to gamble most on my becoming an independently funded investigator.”
It didn’t take long for Waxmonsky to achieve that status: As a junior faculty member he received a five-year, $2.2 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health, his application scoring in the top 1 percent nationwide.
Although Waxmonsky left UB in 2010, he continues to feel the influence of his former mentors and colleagues in every aspect of his career.
“Among the things I try to emulate is the interest and enthusiasm that UB’s psychiatry faculty have for teaching medical students and residents,” he says.
“They are fantastic in engaging students and getting them interested in the field. They certainly accomplished that with me.”