Featured member: Khendra Peay '99
Khendra Peay ’99 is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who specializes in autism and developmental disabilities.
How she got hooked on Wellesley: I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where I didn’t hear a lot about Wellesley. My ninth grade English teacher had us all research a college and do a presentation. I chose to do a presentation on Wellesley. And then it kept growing on me. I went to campus during my junior year and I remember saying, “This is it.”
Why she chose child psychiatry: I knew in middle school that I wanted to be a psychiatrist. My mom was a teacher and my dad was a doctor. I volunteered with mentoring and after school programs and I volunteered at a local hospital. I love the brain and how behavior reflects the functioning of the brain, and I like the biological aspects of helping others.
On life in the Science Center: At Wellesley, I did exactly what I thought I was going to do: psychology and premed. I thought I would do math, but the freshman class advisor said, that is way too much! I lived in Caz the first three years, then Beebe. But I was pretty med-focused, so really I lived in the Science Center.
On exploring the world beyond pre-med: Some of my favorite professors were actually not in science. Chip Case – he was phenomenal in how he would teach a class. I also did a wintersession class with Tony Martin. It was a civil rights class, looking at the different perspectives of the civil rights movement.
How she developed a specialty in autism: While in med school at the Medical College of Virginia, I did a summer program at the Southside Virginia training center in Petersburg. All were adults who were nonverbal or had severe to profound intellectual disabilities. So you had to find ways to communicate that weren’t always going to be verbal language and also think about what else could be going on clinically. I fell in love with that population. Later I did my residency and fellowship in Indiana. During my fellowship, the state and my department started to fund a fellowship for autism and developmental disabilities, so I got to be the first person to do that.
On leaving an early legacy: After the fellowship I went to Hagerstown, Maryland, where I did inpatient and outpatient care work. The facility asked me to help start a program for kids with developmental disabilities, and that’s what I did, the Wellesley way. It was hard to move on, but it was nice to leave something in place.
On the growing awareness and acceptance of autism: Autism has always been around. The prevalence is in part higher now because the diagnostic tools available and there is more awareness.
On launching a solo practice: I had some friends who already had private practices and they had been telling me for years, “Khendra, you need to start your own practice.” It was a big decision, although it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I learned to appreciate that there are challenges to being a business owner. But in private practice, I get to spend more time with families. I get to practice medicine the way I prefer to practice medicine. It is not about a numbers game or seeing patients in a fixed amount of time.
Why she loves her job: It brings me so much joy, when I am working with a child and his or her family, identifying what the challenges are, and we to get to a place where it is no longer a conversation. Say you have a child who was failing and you know it was not about the child cognitively being able to do the work, but it is about the anxiety, their depression, or their ADHD that is getting in the way of them being able to do their best. It is giving kids a chance to be kids, and not letting other things get in the way of their childhood.