Leon M. Yochelson Professorship installation
November 1, 2023
Thank you, Dean Bass, for this wonderful honor to serve as the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and to assume the Yochelson Endowed Professorship.
Thank you to the fantastic faculty in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health for their tremendous support and for making the department such a great academic department.
Thank you to my husband, Steven Mazzola, for your love and support.
As I am being installed into the Leon M. Yochelson, MD Endowed Chair in Psychiatry for the second time, I have recently been thinking a lot about Dr. Yochelson. His photo hangs in our conference room although I never met him.
Dr. Yochelson joined the GW clinical faculty in 1949, became chair of the department in 1959 and served in that capacity until 1970. He was a local and national expert on issues related to psychiatry and the law. He was a leader in the local Washington, DC psychiatric community and in the DC medical society.
A training and supervising psychoanalyst in the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, Dr. Yochelson was chair at a time when he and the faculty worked part-time at GW and many had practices outside of GW, typically in private practice.
When former GW med school Dean John Parks decided to require chairs and faculty to be full-time at GW, Dr. Yochelson decided to leave GW employment. In fact, many of the GW psychiatry faculty went with him to create the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, ironically, now owned by our hospital partner, UHS. Dr. Yochelson went on to lead the PIW, the Psychiatric Institutes of America and its research arm, the Psychiatric Institute Foundation. He died in 1982 at the young age of 64.
Through the years, I learned that Dr. Yochelson and the psychiatrists who joined him in creating the Psychiatric Institute became wealthy—certainly for psychiatrists. One of those former faculty members was Dr. Joseph Rankin who had served, during his tenure on the faculty, as the acting chair of the department and as the psychiatry residency training director.
Once when I was visiting Dr. Rankin on a fundraising visit at his home in Annapolis, (this was during my first tenure as chair,) he told me the story of how the Yochelson professorship came into being. Evidently, Dr. Yochelson was on his death bed and he said to Dr. Rankin, “Joe, I made you a wealthy man. In return, I want you to create an endowed professorship in my name.” And so, Joe Rankin made a significant donation to GW to endow the professorship.
The Leon Yochelson Endowed Professorship in Psychiatry was created in 1982 to support the chair of the department. The first psychiatry chair to hold the Yochelson professorship was Dr. Jerry Wiener.
Dr. Wiener joined GW to become the psychiatry chair in 1976 and was the department chair when I was a medical student, resident and junior faculty member. A leading figure in academic psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry, he served as the President of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He led the transformation of the department into the modern academic psychiatry department that it is today.
Dr. Wiener was a teacher, a mentor and role model to me. The Jerry M. Wiener Endowed Fund, named in his memory, is a vitally important fund in the department that supports a medical student award, an annual lectureship and supports programming and activities related to undergraduate and graduate medical education.
When Dr. Wiener stepped down after 21 years from the chair, Dr. David Mrazek was hired to assume the chair in 1997. Dr. Mrazek was a child and adolescent psychiatrist and researcher who helped create the field of psychiatric pharmacogenomics. He was the second Yochelson professor. I was serving as an assistant and associate dean in the medical school and the Director of Medical Education in the department at the time.
After only three years in the chair, Dr. Mrazek unexpectedly left GW to become the chair of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic. Former Vice President for Health Affairs and Executive Dean, Dr. John “Skip” Williams, appointed me the chair and I assumed the Yochelson professorship.
My first stint as the Yochelson professor and chair took place from 2000-2010, prior to my assuming the vice presidency for health affairs of the university and the deanship of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. It was a very challenging time for psychiatry as insurance companies and managed care organizations were drastically reducing reimbursements for clinical services in psychiatry and mental health. I led the financially strapped department out of insurance to a self-pay, cash model of clinical services that allowed the department to run a modest profit.
However, the most challenging part of the job was serving as chair during the sudden, tragic death of my significant other, Dr. Steven Dixon, and the decline and death of my former chair and mentor, Jerry Wiener, which happened months apart in 2002. Both losses brought the department together in grief, love and support. I believe that it was during that difficult time that I truly matured into a department chair.
When I assumed the deanship after ten years as chair, I was thrilled to be able to appoint my faculty colleague, Dr. James Griffith, the new department chair and proudly presided over his installation as the fourth Yochelson professor. The former residency training director, an outstanding educator and scholar, Dr. Griffith led the growth of the department’s global mental health efforts, the affiliation with the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis and developed a department known for its humanism and social psychiatry rooted in neuroscience. He currently serves as the department’s Vice Chair for Education and is integral to the academic life in the department.
Eleven years after my first tenure as department chair, Dean Barbara Bass asked me to serve as the interim chair and, now, two years later I am back serving as the Yochelson Professor and Chair.
I am frequently asked about how serving as chair in 2023, what I call Akman 2.0, is different from Akman 1.0. All I can say is that it does feel very different. Yes, I have less hair, more weight and orthopedic maladies that I didn’t have then. I also have a lot more administrative experience under my belt and a deep well of enthusiasm and optimism about the future of the department and the GW academic medical enterprise.
There is now an Akman endowed professorship in the department funded by my late cousin and GW double alum Dr. Leonard Akman, currently held by the incomparable Dr. Brandon Kohrt.
There is also a third endowed professorship funded by Drs. Jonathan and Donna Perlin named for my former residency training director, mentor and dear friend Dr. Seymour Perlin and his wife Ruth.
There are, in addition, four endowed lectureships and two endowed prizes for medical students. And, the Jeffrey S. Akman, MD Innovation Fund will soon transition to the Jeffrey S. Akman, MD Fund in Psychiatry to support academic projects in the department. Without question, the impact of philanthropy is making a significant difference in the department.
In addition, the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness, while still a barrier to access and to care, is significantly less than it was in 2000. However, in this post-Covid world, of social media, political division, fentanyl overdoses, gun violence, and employee burnout, we are very much in the midst of a mental health crisis where the demand for services is great and while we endure a critical shortage of psychiatrists, mental health professionals and behavioral health workers. This shortage is particularly acute for those who specialize in treating children and adolescents.
And in a complete turnaround from Akman 1.0, I have led the department from a boutique, self-pay, cash model with a mission to support the academic enterprise into a clinical model where the department also participates in private and government insurance plans with the additional mission of supporting the MFA’s clinical mission and, in particular, MFA primary care services. Moreover, we are also preparing for staffing psychiatric services in the soon-to-be-completed Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center along with community collaboration to address behavioral health disparities in SE DC. In short, the department is primed for significant growth, which means we will see the development of new clinical service lines along with research and training opportunities that we did not have before.
It is an exciting time to chair the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and I am incredibly proud of serving in the Yochelson Chair, once again. Thank you.
Jeffrey S. Akman, MD
Professor and Chair
Leon M. Yochelson Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
GW Medical Faculty Associates, Inc.
School of Medicine and Health Sciences
George Washington University