Dr. David Saunders, MD, PhD

Child psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. David Saunders is an RYI alumni who studied with us as a visiting student from Boston College. He completed his medical studies at Weill Cornell Medical College and attained his PhD. from Emory University, where his research focused on contemporary medical applications of Buddhist meditative methods like mindfulness. Learn more about his story here.

“My involvement at RYI began in September of 2005, when I was a pre-medical student at Boston College studying biology, and studied abroad at RYI under the support and mentorship of Dr. John Makransky, Professor of Theology at Boston College, and Dr./Fr. Gregory Sharkey. I enrolled in RYI’s colloquial Tibetan, Buddhist Philosophy, and Buddhist History courses, as well as a Newari Buddhism course taught by Dr. Sharkey. I attended weekend teachings at the Shedra, befriended a number of monks and RYI staff members, and lived with a Tibetan family nearby, just behind the Hyatt. My time at RYI changed the trajectory of my personal and professional lives, altering my relationship with religion and the sacred, as well as my career aspirations.

I returned to RYI and Boudha in August of 2007, staying for almost one year, as a Fulbright scholar studying Tibetan Buddhist notions of tuberculosis through the lens of medical anthropology. I continued to build relationships at RYI and beyond, hiring a translator who would go on to become a lifelong friend, and whom I would sponsor in his application for asylum in the United States. Dr. Sharkey, notably, became a dear friend, and would end up officiating my wedding in June of 2013.

As of 2023, I have yet to return to RYI or Nepal. However, my time there continues to have a lasting impact on my life. For one, I met my wife over a mutual interest in and experience traveling to or living in Boudha. She had just returned from a visit to Boudha when we first met, which prompted an immediate connection that endures to this day.

As a result of my studies at RYI, I decided to pursue a PhD in Buddhist Studies alongside my medical degree. Thus from 2008 to 2015, I studied medicine at Cornell, and obtained a PhD under the mentorship of Dr. John Dunne at Emory University, whom I met for the first time after a talk he gave at RYI in November of 2007. When applying for PhD programs, I remembered that chance encounter, reached out to him to discuss the possibility of studying under him at Emory, and he graciously accepted. He, too, attended my wedding, and we remain friends to this day.

From 2015 to 2020, I completed psychiatry residency and child/adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Yale School of Medicine. Alongside medical training, I conducted research on mindfulness-based interventions in child and adolescent psychiatry. Specifically, I developed a mindfulness-based intervention for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in 6-11 year olds, which I am presently testing in a clinical trial under the mentorship of a neuroscientist and longstanding Buddhist practitioner, Dr. Hedy Kober.

Since 2020, I have been at Columbia University, where I am now an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. My lab studies the relationship between mindfulness, religiosity, and spirituality, and health, with a specific focus on substance use disorders.

As I look back on my career, no other factor has influenced the direction of my life in the way that RYI did. I am and will be forever grateful for having been a part of the community, and hope it continues to flourish for many years to come.”


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