The American Association of Chairs of Departments of Psychiatry was founded in 1963 and was originally a social club whose members included every medical school department of psychiatry chair. They met once a year for dinner at the annual APA meeting. The president was the chair of the department of psychiatry at the host city, and presidential responsibilities were limited to arranging the dining event. In 1965–1966, the first constitution was drafted for the organization. This document was approved at the May 1967 meeting, which also included the first scientific program. All of the papers presented at the 1967 meeting dealt with residency training. Not a single paper dealt with departmental budget issues or shrinking grant funding. How times have changed.
Over the past 40 years, the organizational structure of the group has grown dramatically. The current executive council includes a president, president-elect, secretary/treasurer, past president, and three council members. In addition, formal liaisons to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Veterans Affairs (VA), mental health advocacy groups, psychiatric education groups, and PhRMA have been established. The current mission statement is as follows:
The American Association of Chairs of Departments of Psychiatry (AACDP) will advance medicine and the practice of psychiatry through:
Strengthening its membership by enhancing the skills and effectiveness of leaders
Providing a forum for the development and exchange of ideas and information
Promoting excellence in psychiatric education, research, and clinical care
Advocating for health policy to create appropriate psychiatric care for all
The only remaining social function is a cocktail party held at the biannual meeting. The topics of discussion at the twice-yearly meetings include everything related to running an academic department of psychiatry in 2007, supporting one another, and maintaining an active voice in American psychiatry.
I first joined the AACDP shortly after being named chair at Temple University in 1998. I was advised by former chairs I knew that the organization was the ultimate “all boys club” and did little more than meet twice a year, once in conjunction with the AAMC meeting and a second time just prior to the APA annual meeting. Despite the perceived lack of productivity, I was told to join for political reasons and to “have a presence,” if nothing else. I was skeptical of this rather harsh assessment of the organization, given the high quality of many of the existing chairs I knew. To my pleasant surprise, the advice I was given was not accurate.
From my first meeting, my fellow senior chairs were collegial, supportive, and very concerned about the current state of academic psychiatry. Like virtually all large organizations, not all members are active or share the same agenda. A memorable experience was my first AACDP retreat, held in Aspen. The president of AACDP at that time convened the retreat with the goal of restructuring (and reenergizing) the organization. It was an excellent retreat. The quality of leadership being demonstrated was impressive. At the conclusion of the weekend meeting, the AACDP had been reshaped, with clear goals and objectives established and a new functional committee structure put into place. At the Aspen retreat, the need to more closely interact with groups like the Residency Training Directors and Directors of Medical Student Education and advocacy groups such as the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the AAMC, the Residency Review Committee (RRC), and the VA was established. Liaisons were put into place for each of these groups. I expressed my long-standing interest in education and was appointed chair of the education section. To my delight, of all of the sections created, this turned out to be one of the best attended, underscoring the commitment to education by the chairs. I could hear from the chairs regarding their issues and concerns, as well as from the leadership of the training directors, medical student educators, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), and APA. Being able to attend their meetings, and inviting their leadership to attend ours, helped begin a badly needed and long overdue dialogue.
This new structure created an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared concern for the pressing academic issues by all involved parties. The involvement of department administrators in the meetings over the past 5 years has been valuable in understanding the extremely important role they play in running a successful department.
It is true, to know a department is to know a department. Many of the challenges faced by chairs are unique to their situation. However, many common themes exist and the AACDP has attempted to address them in a manner that is sensitive to the unique challenges encountered by each chair. Not all topics carry the same relevance for every department. Some departments are extremely successful in attaining extramural funding, and some have no or very little grant support. Regardless, the issue of delivering scholarly productivity, high-quality teaching, and clinical service while keeping the dean satisfied is relevant to all chairs. As a group, the chairs understand we are only successful when faculty members are productive and professionally motivated. We take great pride in their achievements and tend to brag more of faculty accomplishments than personal ones at the cocktail party.
On a personal note, as informative as the biannual meetings and occasional retreats have been, the greatest benefit for me has come from the friendships and mentoring opportunities created by being an active member of the organization. Learning from those who have been through the “wars” and survived has been invaluable. Like the GAP (Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry) and other organizations within our profession, the AACDP is very fortunate to have an outstanding administrative director, Lucille Meinsler. Like a good department administrator, she gets the job done every time, respectfully, professionally, and efficiently. She keeps the engine running.
As is evident by this article, I am proud to be a member of the AACDP, impressed by the talent of my colleagues, and optimistic about the future of our field—academic psychiatry. As psychiatrists, we are fortunate to work in the most exciting field of medicine. Many challenges exist, but if we can continue to focus on the relevant issues together as the faculty of academic psychiatry, we will succeed in training future generations of competent psychiatrists and pushing the envelope of the highest quality research and psychiatric care.
Having survived three dean changes, I am fortunate to be able to maintain membership in this rather exclusive club. I only hope my luck does not run out.