Geriatric psychiatrist C. Freeman – president-elect of Los Angeles County Medical Association and program director for the newly accredited psychiatry residency training program at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science — has several works of art on her walls.
Chief among them are images by artist Leroy Campbell, noted for his depiction of African American life.
She also has decorated her new office with a panoramic photo of a streaky, gray-blue sunset that she shot with her cell phone, adapted with a fish-eye lens. That way, she said, she can enjoy a sunset at any time during her long workdays.
Perhaps most notable among her wall hangings is a large mirror that directly faces her desk.
“The mirror reminds of my own reflection, and how I might be perceived by others,” she said.
And there’s another important reason for the mirror: It helps her to monitor her own facial expression when she’s talking on the phone.
“When you talk, sometimes people can hear the smile,” she added.
It’s not vanity that has Freeman gazing at her reflection. She is keenly aware that she’s been a role model all her life, both for women and for the African-American community. Her father was a professor at historically black Texas Southern University in Houston, and she earned her undergrad and medical degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C., also an historically black institution.
She is a lifelong overachiever who declared at as a pre-teen that she was going to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“It’s a mouthful, and it sounded really impressive,” she says now, with a laugh. “Also, I was pretty good at sewing, so I thought it wouldn’t be a very big deal.”
The ambitious youngster eventually committed herself to geriatric psychiatry.
“The baby boomers are graying, there are going to be an exponential number of elders and not enough clinicians to serve them,” she said.
Freeman points out that as the first African American president of Los Angeles County Medical Association she joins a notable triumvirate of women. Psychiatrist Altha Stewart began her one-year term as president of the American Psychiatric Association in May, becoming the first African American to hold the post. Psychiatrist Patrice Harris became the first African American woman to be elected president of the American Medical Association a month later.
Freeman has borrowed techniques from her years of psychiatric practice to encourage conversation and communication in her new role as an administrator. Take for example her purple swivel chairs: “Men prefer to interact or deal with you straight on, while women (are more comfortable) with a sideways position, especially as it deals with confrontation,” she said, demonstrating the moves. Freeman said she sometimes does the opposite to see how it might change the game.
“I really think about the concept of warmth and embracement,” Freeman said. “This university is a private university with a public mission. It’s actually ingrained not just in the culture, but in the classes, in the focus on social justice and cultural diversity, and the expression of that.”