Before a full house and standing ovation, Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD’85, vice president for health affairs and dean of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) was formally installed as the Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine Oct. 23. The endowed chair, named in honor of Walter Andrew Bloedorn who served as director of GW Hospital beginning in 1932 and dean of the school of medicine from 1939–57, 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.
“This ceremony carries on a tradition that began nearly 500 years ago, when endowed positions were first established at Oxford and Cambridge universities,” said GW President Steven Knapp. The oldest endowed professorship at GW — the Congressional Professorship — dates back to 1832, 11 years after the university was founded. “Today, we continue this tradition by welcoming Jeffrey S. Akman as the Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine.” Knapp acknowledged Dr. Akman’s deep connection to the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and to the wider GW community. He also commended him on his successful leadership of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Dr. Akman joins a distinguished group of leaders who have held this title, including Ronald P. Kaufman, M.D.; Roger Meyer, M.D.; Allan B. Weingold, M.D., Hon. ’98; and John F. Williams, M.D. ’79, Ed.D. ’96, M.P.H., RESD ’83.
“I have come to the belief that all academic administrators really should be psychiatrists,” Steven Lerman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at GW, said in jest. On a personal note, Lerman described Dr. Akman as “someone I turn to for advice, with whom I can discuss difficult choices. I consider Jeff not only a colleague, but also a friend.”
“Those of you know me, know that I’m incredibly proud of this university and its School of Medicine and Health Sciences. As they say, I am a person who bleeds buff and blue,” said Dr. Akman.
As he addressed the audience, Dr. Akman took a moment to acknowledge 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 Dr. Leonard Akman, a double GW alumnus, gave him his first microscope. “As a 21-year-old student I didn’t fully recognize the meaning or significance of that gift regarding the path that I was to share with Leonard as a soon-to-be trained physician,” he said.
Leonard passed away a few years ago and left a substantial bequest to SMHS that reflected a deep well of gratitude to his alma mater. The gift established an endowed professorship in global psychiatry in Leonard’s parents’ names, 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,” he said. In addition, future medical students will benefit by having tuition support from the Bryan J. Akman Scholarship fund, and medical students and residents will have opportunities to take international medical electives with support from the Dr. Leonard Akman Global Medicine Scholarships.
Long-time colleague Alan G. Wasserman, M.D., MACP, Eugene Meyer Professor of Medicine, chairman of the Department of Medicine, and president of the GW Medical Faculty Associates (MFA), made remarks about the dean. “Jeff has developed the qualities that have made him the right person for this position,” he said, praising Dr. Akman for his ability to instill a new sense of pride and belonging in staff and faculty.
An early mentor, colleague, and friend of Dr. Akman, Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), spoke about meeting Dr. Akman for first time more than 30 years ago. “I remember his talent, intelligence and the compassion he exhibited as a clinician,” Kirch said. Describing the current health care climate, Kirch expressed the need for exceptional leadership. “Tens of millions of Americans don’t have health insurance or don’t receive the level of quality of care that the sincere physicians I know aspire to provide,” he added. For Kirch, it’s not just about cutting health care costs, or getting more people insured; it’s about educating doctors, nurses, and public health professionals. “We need leaders who are gifted, talented physician educators, like Jeff Akman, to help us navigate these turbulent times.”
“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.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, the field Dr. Akman was pursing, psychiatry, was somewhat of a mixed bag in its approach toward homosexuality. In 1973, the Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) removed homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders. A decade later, topics such as sexual reassignment to cure homosexuality were still an aspect of psychoanalytic training; something Dr. Akman would need to complete for his training. “Which meant becoming straight,” recalled Dr. Akman.
In January, Dr. Akman was named the Vice President for Health Affairs and the Dean of SMHS after serving as interim in both capacities since 2010. In these roles, Dr. Akman has served as a liaison between the university and its clinical partners, including the MFA, the GW Hospital, and Children's National Health System.
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. He then joined the GW psychiatry faculty. From 1991-2000, 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 was appointed as the Leon M. Yochelson Professor and became chair of the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in 2000, a position he held until his appointment as Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean.
A recipient of numerous awards for his display of humanism in medicine and community service, Dr. Akman is also a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and the American College of Psychiatrists. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Akman also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the GW Alumni Association and received the GW Distinguished Alumni Service Award. Dr. Akman currently serves on D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s Commission on HIV/AIDS and was a past president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association.
Over the course of Dr. Akman’s 37 years at GW as a medical student, resident, clinician, and faculty member, 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.”