“Most people don’t know I grew up on a farm and drove a grain truck when I was 10 years old,” says a smiling Dr. Marilyn Baetz, Unified Head of the Department of Psychiatry for the College of Medicine and Saskatoon Health Region.

Eight years later, she enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan to study nutrition, “before nutrition was popular.” After completing a five-year degree, including a one-year internship, she worked as a clinical dietitian for four years at Royal University Hospital.

Dr. Marilyn Baetz, Unified Head of the Department of Psychiatry for the College of Medicine and Saskatoon Health Region

Dr. Marilyn Baetz, Unified Head of the Department of Psychiatry for the College of Medicine and Saskatoon Health Region

“I was working as a nutritionist on the wards when I decided that I wanted to further my education and be more involved in patient care, so I applied to study medicine,” says Dr. Baetz. “It’s probably been the best career move I could have made; the privilege of working with patients is an incredibly rewarding experience.”

It was while enrolled in the College of Medicine that Dr. Baetz realized she wanted to specialize in psychiatry.

“I think I came to a gradual awareness of it,” says Dr. Baetz. “I certainly didn’t go into medicine thinking that’s what I would do, but as I became more familiar with psychiatry, I realized that was where my talents and abilities lay. What I like about psychiatry is that it deals with the whole person. If you’re treating depression, it’s depression in the context of the entire person and their psychosocial setting. In some respects, it can be harder because there are not necessarily tests to make diagnoses, but I find it much more interesting. I’m fascinated by the mind, relationships and how people interact.

“In this type of work, you also learn about yourself and how you interact. So, one of the best things for me as a department head is that I have worked as a psychiatrist for many years and have developed insights and skills in working with people and understanding relationships,” Dr. Baetz says of her current role in the Department of Psychiatry, where she recently began her sixth year as the unified head.

From a clinical point of view, Dr. Baetz’s responsibilities include overseeing the various psychiatric services in the acute care and emergency departments, Dubé Centre and the community. From an academic point of view, she oversees all teaching and research related to psychiatry in the College of Medicine, including undergraduate and post-graduate education, medical clerks, and a child and adolescent sub-specialty program, among other areas.

“What I like most about this position is the variety of work,” says Dr. Baetz. “There is always something happening, and I have the opportunity to advocate, to help make change happen, and to really work for our patients and for my colleagues on a system level – looking at how psychiatry and mental health fit within health care. Psychiatry is probably the most stigmatized area of medicine from a patient perspective and even within medicine. When I accepted the position as unified department head, I wanted to decrease that stigma by making our department the best department we could be: well-functioning from within and well-respected from without.”

Dr. Baetz is certainly achieving her goal. In 2014, the Department of Psychiatry had among the highest physician engagement scores within the Region.

“The survey showed that our psychiatrists are very engaged physicians,” Dr. Baetz says proudly. “We’re a cohesive group because we’ve had to work together to overcome obstacles, and I think people in the department really feel that they have a voice, that they’re involved and that they can make a difference.”

In addition to her role as unified head, Dr. Baetz continues to practice as a psychiatrist with patients experiencing anxiety and mood disorders – her sub-specialty for over a decade. Currently, she is working in the area of maternal mental health, which includes treating pregnant and post-partum women.

“I first developed an interest in maternal mental health in 2006. I was receiving a lot of referrals, but at the time there was nothing coordinated for maternal mental health in the Region – the resources were scattered throughout the city. So, I worked with a colleague from nursing who was looking at mental health in pregnancy, and we developed a program to better serve these women. It’s taken 10 years to grow, but it is at the point where I have had to share the workload with another psychiatrist.”

Other areas of interest for Dr. Baetz include research in religion/spirituality and suicidal ideation, religion/spirituality and psychosomatic conditions, and the clinical correlates of mood variability with other mental health conditions.

When not in the office, Dr. Baetz enjoys her family, keeping active at the gym and golfing.  In particular she enjoys travelling and has an affinity for historical locations in Europe.

“I love a challenge,” Dr. Baetz says enthusiastically. “I’m always thinking of something that I can do differently and better, whether it is at home or at work. The most rewarding thing about being a department head is being able to serve my colleagues and the patients we support. The ability to be able to reach out and help others to grow and develop is very satisfying.”

In 2013, Dr. Baetz was the recipient of the Dennis A. Kendel Distinguished Service Award, presented by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. The award recognizes and honours individuals who have made outstanding contributions in Saskatchewan to physician leadership and/or physician engagement and quality improvements in health care.