Tommy K. Begay, PhD, MPH

Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Tommy K. Begay is Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Arizona. He is a Cultural Psychologist by academic training, focusing on the interrelationship of culture, biology, and environment, to understand human behavior as applicable to health and wellness. From this approach, cognition and human development – specifically, neurodevelopment and neuroplasticity – depend upon environmental stimulation provided through social interaction, context, and culture. Basically, all activities and behaviors lend to physical and functional changes to the brain – and changes to the brain influence behavior. The results collectively contribute to consciousness, identity, and personality.

Dr. Begay possesses a Master of Public Health degree, with a specialty in International Health, from UArizona MEZ College of Public Health. He completed his Postdoc training at UArizona’s Department of Psychiatry. As an instructor at UArizona, Dr. Begay has taught the following courses: American Indian Medicine and Wellness, Drugs and Society, Human Sexuality, Health Education Intervention Methods, and Contemporary Community Health. Prior to obtaining his doctorate, Dr. Begay worked as Program Director in the Native American Research and Training Center, and the MEZ College of Public Health, at UArizona.

Research Interests: 

Dr. Begay’s research interests include Native American health, especially in relation to the impact of American Indian historical trauma, and the subsequent evolution of intergenerational, maladaptive coping behaviors that contribute to the disproportionately high rates of stress-related cardiometabolic diseases, interpersonal violence, sleep disparities, substance abuse, and addiction – all major contributing factors to the contemporary health and wellness of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Of particular interest is the use of psychoneuroimmunology to assess the health impact of chronic stress, and the physiological responses associated with physical, psychological, and emotional trauma. In this regard, Dr. Begay has laboratory experience coordinating the collection, cataloguing, and storage of biological samples necessary for stress response and inflammatory biomarker assay and analysis. Understanding the biology of the traumatic stress response lends to intervention and prevention strategies that contribute to the alignment of body, mind, spirit, and healing.

Originally from Dinétah, the Navajo Nation, Dr. Begay currently resides in Tucson, Arizona. There he provides psychosocial health education lectures, seminars, and workshops on topics relevant to behavior modification and behavioral health. Often, focusing on the developmental process of the “culture of maladaptive behaviors” (self-medication, addiction, and violence) linked with toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, and maladaptive coping skills. Factors that are associated with self-harm, substance abuse, violence, and low academic achievement – potential antecedents of poor health, criminal behavior, and early death.

Selected Publications: 

Ghani SB, Begay TK, Grandner MA (2020). Sleep Disordered Breathing and Insomnia as Cardiometabolic Risk Factors Among US Hispanics/Latinos. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1164/rccm.202008-3171ED

Begay, TK, Gooneratne N, Williams N, Seixas A, Jean-Louis G, Gilles A, Killgore WD, Alfonso-Miller P, Grandner MA (2019). 0208 Sleep Disparities in the United States and the Impact of Poverty, Sleep, Volume 42, Issue Supplement 1, April 2019, Page A86, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz067.207

Begay TK, Grandner MA (2018). Sleep and Cardiometabolic Health in Indigenous Populations: Importance of Socio-cultural Context, Sleep Medicine, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2018.11.013.

Begay, T.K., “Standard Operating Procedure for Biological Sample Collection and Documentation. Prepared for the Farms, Animals, and Adolescents: Reinforcing the Microbiome (FAARM) Study”, 2017. A Collaboration between Heartland Farm Sanctuary and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. Kimberly Kelly, PhD, Principal Investigator, School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI.

Janssen C.W., Lowry C.A., Mehl M.R., Allen J.J., Kelly K.L., Gartner D.E., Medrano A., Begay T.K., Rentscher K., White J.J., Fridman A., Roberts L.J., Robbins M.L., Hanusch K.U., Cole S.P., Raison C.L., “Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial”, JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 12, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1031.

Raison, C.L., Rook, G.W., Miller, A.H., Begay, T.K., “Chapter 26: Role of Inflammation in Psychiatric Disease”. In: Zigmond, M.J., Rowland, L.P., Coyle, J.T., Eds. Neurobiology of Brain Disorders: Biological Basis of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders. Academic Press; December 2015:396-421. ISBN: 9780123982704. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-398270-4.00026-4.

Begay, T.K., Urso, A., “Distance Learning: A Future Approach to Address School-wide Behavior”, FOCUS on Professional Development, 2006, Center for School Improvement, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Albuquerque, NM.

Degrees
  • PhD: Cultural Psychology, College of Education, University of Arizona, 2012
  • MPH: Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, 1997
  • BS: Animal Health Science, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Tucson, 1983
Honors and Awards
  • 1996: American Heart Association Student Stipend Award, The Navajo Coronary Study
  • 1995: Kellogg Foundation – For the “Educational Fundamental Enrichment Program”
  • 1995: Centennial Achievement Master’s Student Award, University of Arizona
  • 1994: Martin Luther King, Jr., Distinguished Leadership Award, University of Arizona