September 1, 2021
To: Members and Friends of the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Next week begins the New Year on the Hebrew (lunar) calendar with the celebration of the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. An essential component of this holiday is for practitioners of the Jewish faith to review their actions over the past year and recommit themselves to being better individuals in the upcoming year.
In Judaism, that recommitment is called tikkun olam (pronounced tee-KOON oh-LUHM), translated as “repair of the world” or fix a broken world. This effort, especially during the High Holidays, actively starts with introspection, repairing oneself, but, importantly, is also meant to be a call to social action and the pursuit of social justice in its broadest sense. It is a call to healing, to charity and to doing good in this world.
As I enter my third week as interim chair of the department, I think about our shared commitment to tikkun olam, as individuals, as a department and as part of a larger academic medical center. Through education, research, clinical care and advocacy we enthusiastically and with great determination embrace our mission to improve the health and mental health of our patients and their families as well as our local, national and global communities—a noble mission with the goal of healing lives and healing the world.
Part of the reason that I agreed to serve as the chair again was because of our department’s historic commitment to tikkun olam.
As a first year medical student I first met a GW psychiatry faculty member in 1977 when former faculty member Bernard Frankel, MD led my Physician Identity Group. That began my extraordinarily rewarding forty-four year association with this amazing department as a medical student, resident, faculty member, chair and dean…and now as chair again. In addition to the countless patients I have cared for, I have been incredibly fortunate to teach scores of bright students and extraordinary psychiatry residents, learn from exceptional faculty members and befriend many wonderful peers, colleagues and mentors. I know what has made this department special and central to my own personal and professional development: that is, in addition to the superb residency program, exceptional clinicians, outstanding teachers and distinguished scholars and researchers, this department has a deep, longstanding commitment to pursuing social justice, engaging in social action and incorporating social psychiatry into its mission.
My commitment to you is, that as a product of this department and, now the chair of this department, I will continue to embrace our sacred social mission of “repairing the world.” In that vein, I am distributing our grand rounds schedule for the fall and posting it on our department’s website: https://smhs.gwu.edu/psychiatry/. In addition to presenting you (via Zoom) the latest science and information on topics related to psychiatry, medicine and social justice, you will notice several of the department’s named endowed lectures. We have a terrific line up of speakers including national leaders in psychiatry (some of whom are members of our faculty) and exceptional individuals who have committed themselves to repairing the world.
To all of the members of the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and to others reading this message, I wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year. May next year be a better year for each of us, our families, our communities, our nation and for the world.
Jeffrey S. Akman, MD