Giving Back to the Community: A Commitment to Mental Health Care and Prevention  A. Paul Kurkjian, MD, Advisory Board Member

A. Paul Kurkjian, MD, Adventist Health White Memorial Charitable Foundation Advisory Board MemberA. Paul Kurkjian, MD – or Dr. K, as he is known to his patients and his staff – is a man of many worlds. He is a child of Armenian heritage, grew up in Latino communities in Los Angeles and attended the prestigious St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge. When his classmates returned to school from summer break, they had stories of their European vacations, while he had stories of his summer job.

However, all these experiences taught Dr. K to navigate different identities within diverse communities and circles that would ultimately inform his professional aspirations.

Dr. K spent his childhood days working with his father, Paul Kurkjian Sr., at La Fiesta, their family-owned Mexican-Salvadorian restaurant nestled in the vibrant and culturally rich MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The aroma of savory spices, sizzling meats, and warm tortillas provided a welcoming haven for the restaurant’s patrons, many of whom were Mexican-American or Salvadoran immigrants.

As the evening hours descended upon La Fiesta, it transformed into an impromptu psychiatry practice. In between cleaning up the aftermath of too much alcohol and straightening up tables and chairs, young Dr. K witnessed his father’s unwavering dedication to helping others. He was a therapist of sorts to lonely souls at the bar who missed their homes and families, offering comfort and support in the form of a listening ear, a kind word and of course, a beer.

His father always said, “Everything is this, this whole world. If you could figure out psychology, it would help you in many different realms in business or your own life.” This early exposure to mental health treatment and the struggles of immigrants had a profound impact on Dr. K and impressed upon him the importance of being empathetic and compassionate toward those in need.

He attended medical school at Drexel University in Philadelphia and did his psychiatric residency at UCLA. He completed his training in child psychiatry at Cedar-Sinai and has been a board-certified child and adult psychiatrist with close to 20 years of experience, treating over a quarter of a million patients in various settings, from inpatient to outpatient, child psych, adult psych, and geriatric psych.

Dr. K’s gift is his ability to connect with children who have endured trauma. Through gentle listening and compassionate guidance, he helps young people make sense of their emotions and begin the journey toward healing. It has been a rewarding experience for him to witness the resilience and strength of the children as they navigate through the storm of youth and emerge on the other side, stronger and more determined to live their best adult lives.

Today, as Director of Child Psychiatry at Adventist Health White Memorial, Dr. K’s role involves managing the medication and treatment of children hospitalized with psychiatric issues. However, his work has taken him to Southern California’s busiest and most challenging areas, including Huntington Hospital in Pasadena and Community Hospital in Long Beach. He built his career one agency at a time, embedding himself into the communities he serves. Currently, he divides his time working in outpatient clinics (such as El Centro Del Pueblo nonprofit community service agency), rounding on adult patients in the hospital in the mornings and seeing child psychiatric patients in the afternoon. This balance keeps his skills sharp and allows him to provide continuity of care as patients transition from outpatient to inpatient.

Dr. K stepped into a role of greater purpose and impact in 2022 when he joined the board of directors of the Adventist Health White Memorial Charitable Foundation as a Physician Advisor. His beloved wife, Erika Toriz, Executive Director of Haven Neighborhood Services, encouraged him to take on this leadership role and offer his expertise to benefit the community. Dr. K also serves on the Haven Neighborhood Services board, where alongside his wife, they bring vital financial literacy knowledge and insight to low-to-moderate income individuals and families in Los Angeles. Additionally, he works with them to provide free psychoeducation at Animo Charter Schools in South Los Angeles and California State University Long Beach during their parent education classes, discussing mental illness, cultural stigma and barriers to treatment with Spanish speaking families.

Dr. K is devoted to the cause of mental health and giving back to the community he grew up in as a youth. But he is also a firm believer in the power of recreation and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. For him, happiness is found in the richness of life experiences, not in material possessions. And so, he and Erika vacation in the sun-drenched South of France and savor meals at the finest Michelin-rated restaurants. And each year, they open their home to host their annual mariachi party, where he takes center stage as singer and performer, decked out in the traditional garb of the mariachi.

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