By Laura Otto
Before a full house and standing ovation on Thursday, Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, vice president for health affairs and dean of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences was formally installed as the Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine.
The endowed chair honors Walter Andrew Bloedorn, who served as the director of the George Washington University Hospital beginning in 1932 and dean of GW’s school of medicine from 1939 to 1957. The position was established in 1983 by the Walter A. Bloedorn Foundation to support the dean for academic affairs at SMHS.
“I’m humbled, honored and inspired on a daily basis to lead the school that gave me so much,” said Dr. Akman.
Dr. Akman joins a distinguished group of leaders who have held this title, including Ronald P. Kaufman; Roger Meyer; Allan B. Weingold, Hon. ’98; and John F. Williams, M.D. ’79, Ed.D. ’96
“This ceremony carries on a tradition that began nearly 500 years ago, when endowed positions were first established at Oxford and Cambridge universities,” said President Steven Knapp.
He acknowledged Dr. Akman’s deep connection to SMHS and to the wider GW community. He also commended Dr. Akman on his strong leadership skills.
“I have come to the belief that all academic administrators really should be psychiatrists,” said Provost Steven Lerman. On a personal note, Dr. Lerman described Dr. Akman as “someone I turn to for advice and with whom I can discuss difficult choices. I consider Jeff not only a colleague, but also a friend.”
Dr. Akman received his medical degree from GW in 1981 and completed his psychiatry residency at GW in 1985, serving as chief resident in psychiatry.
Dr. Akman, who is openly gay, noted that during this era it was difficult pursuing a career as a psychiatrist.
Though the Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual removed homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders in 1973, topics such sexual reassignment to cure homosexuality were still an aspect of psychoanalytic training a decade later—something Dr. Akman would need to complete for his training.
“Discrimination existed, and the stigma was real,” Dr. Akman said. “The closet was an appropriate and understandable choice for many of my colleagues.”
However, Dr. Akman said he exceled in his chosen field with the support he received from GW—support that he does not think he could have received at many other universities.
“At GW, I discovered an institution with a history of embracing diversity, a culture of support, acceptance and tolerance,” Dr. Akman said. “I believe my path would not have been possible at any other institution, certainly within the District of Columbia.”
Dr. Akman joined the GW psychiatry faculty after completing his residency. From 1991 to 2000, Dr. Akman also served as the assistant dean for student educational policies before being appointed to associate dean for student and faculty development and policies. Dr. Akman became chair of the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in 2000. In January, he was named the vice president for health affairs and the dean of SMHS after serving as interim in both capacities since 2010.
As he addressed the audience, Dr. Akman acknowledged those who have passed away: his twin brother, Bryan; his former partner, Steven M. Dixon, M.D. ’83; and his father’s cousin, Leonard C. Akman, M.D. ’43.
Dr. Akman recalled how the late Dr. Akman, M.D. ’43, gave him his first microscope. He passed away a few years ago and left a substantial bequest to SMHS. The gift established an endowed professorship in global psychiatry in honor of the late Dr. Akman’s parents, Charles and Sonia Akman. It also supports the new Clinical Learning and Simulation Skills (CLASS) Center in Ross Hall.
“When the new CLASS Center opens in 2014, our students and patients will enter into the Dr. Leonard Akman reception area and learn in the Dr. Steven Dixon conference room,” Dr. Akman said.
Over the course of Dr. Akman’s 37 years at GW, he takes pride in knowing that GW is “a school where we expect our students, staff, residents, fellows, faculty and alumni to make a difference in people’s lives every day. We do that through clinical care, discovery and through education.”