Psychiatric Annals

Profiles of Famous American Psychiatrists Robert G. Heath, M.D.

Wallace K Tomlinson, MD

Abstract

When Robert Galbraith Heath retired from the Chairmanship of the Tulane University Department of Psychiatry and Neurology in July 1980, he had served for an unprecedented 31 years, longer than any other Chairman of Psychiatry in continuous tenure in the country.

During those 31 years, his Department of Psychiatry and Neurology maintained a unique fusion of those two disciplines which Bob Heath envisioned as the only accurate foundation for the understanding of human behavior and human psychopathology. In the early years of his Chairmanship, many saw his vision as a curiosity, but the passing years have vindicated his position that the key to understanding serious "mental illness" would be found in the chemical composition and the physiologic function of the brain.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Bob Heath received both his baccalaureate and medical degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, subsequently serving his internship at Mercy Hospital in that city. During the early years of the second World War, he trained in neurology at the Neurological Institute in New York, after which he was appointed Fellow in Psychiatry at the Department for Mental and Nervous Diseases at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. The war interrupted his training, and for three years he served in the United States Public Health Service, assigned to the United States Navy as Chief Psychiatrist at the United States Marine Hospital in New York. During these years he was married and began his family, which would eventually include five children. Following the war. Heath continued his studies, having been awarded a Fellowship at the Psychoanalytic Clinic of Columbia. Bob Heath's mentor, Dr. Sandor Rado, an exemplary and inspiring teacher, was a significant influence, promoting interest in psychoanalytic theory of the mind - an adaptational theory firmly anchored in the neurologic sciences. At the same time. Heath had a Tilney Fellowship in neurophysiologic research at Columbia and continued his studies in neurology, leading to the degree of Doctor of Medical Science from Columbia in 1949.

In that same year, Dean Maxwell Lapham, himself recently returned from serving in the Navy, was actively recruiting a Chairman for the new Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane Medical School. The Medical School, established in 1 834 and known primarily for its surgical traditions exemplified in Doctors Rudolph Matas, Alton Ochsner, and Michael DeBakey, had had a Psychiatry and Neurology Section under the auspices of the Department of Medicine since 1922. Despite opposition from some members of the medical faculty. Dean Lapham decided that the neurological and behavioral sciences had achieved a degree of development, legitimacy, and sophistication that warranted the creation of a full-time department. The psychiatric facilities at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, which had provided continuous service since 1 728, combined with a network of State mental hospitals, provided ample beds for instruction.

In 1949, Dr. Robert Heath accepted the appointment as head of the newly created Tulane University Department, beginning his long and distinguished career as Chairman. From the outset, Dr. Heath avoided the growing split between neurology and psychiatry, and sought to foster, preserve, and extend the tradition of Pinel and Charcot at Paris, of Griessinger at Berlin, and Meyer at Hopkins. By any measure, he was eminently successful in his efforts. His vision, anchored in the experience of the past, provided the foundation fora solid future. One of his house officers during those early years, Dr. Melvin Sabshin, currently Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, well remembers the psychiatric wards at Charity Hospital, including the fever wards designated for the treatment of syphilis. Twentyfive years before, VonJauregg, recognizing the exquisite sensitivity of the…

When Robert Galbraith Heath retired from the Chairmanship of the Tulane University Department of Psychiatry and Neurology in July 1980, he had served for an unprecedented 31 years, longer than any other Chairman of Psychiatry in continuous tenure in the country.

During those 31 years, his Department of Psychiatry and Neurology maintained a unique fusion of those two disciplines which Bob Heath envisioned as the only accurate foundation for the understanding of human behavior and human psychopathology. In the early years of his Chairmanship, many saw his vision as a curiosity, but the passing years have vindicated his position that the key to understanding serious "mental illness" would be found in the chemical composition and the physiologic function of the brain.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Bob Heath received both his baccalaureate and medical degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, subsequently serving his internship at Mercy Hospital in that city. During the early years of the second World War, he trained in neurology at the Neurological Institute in New York, after which he was appointed Fellow in Psychiatry at the Department for Mental and Nervous Diseases at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. The war interrupted his training, and for three years he served in the United States Public Health Service, assigned to the United States Navy as Chief Psychiatrist at the United States Marine Hospital in New York. During these years he was married and began his family, which would eventually include five children. Following the war. Heath continued his studies, having been awarded a Fellowship at the Psychoanalytic Clinic of Columbia. Bob Heath's mentor, Dr. Sandor Rado, an exemplary and inspiring teacher, was a significant influence, promoting interest in psychoanalytic theory of the mind - an adaptational theory firmly anchored in the neurologic sciences. At the same time. Heath had a Tilney Fellowship in neurophysiologic research at Columbia and continued his studies in neurology, leading to the degree of Doctor of Medical Science from Columbia in 1949.

ROBERT G. HEATH, M.D., D.M.SCI.

ROBERT G. HEATH, M.D., D.M.SCI.

In that same year, Dean Maxwell Lapham, himself recently returned from serving in the Navy, was actively recruiting a Chairman for the new Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane Medical School. The Medical School, established in 1 834 and known primarily for its surgical traditions exemplified in Doctors Rudolph Matas, Alton Ochsner, and Michael DeBakey, had had a Psychiatry and Neurology Section under the auspices of the Department of Medicine since 1922. Despite opposition from some members of the medical faculty. Dean Lapham decided that the neurological and behavioral sciences had achieved a degree of development, legitimacy, and sophistication that warranted the creation of a full-time department. The psychiatric facilities at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, which had provided continuous service since 1 728, combined with a network of State mental hospitals, provided ample beds for instruction.

In 1949, Dr. Robert Heath accepted the appointment as head of the newly created Tulane University Department, beginning his long and distinguished career as Chairman. From the outset, Dr. Heath avoided the growing split between neurology and psychiatry, and sought to foster, preserve, and extend the tradition of Pinel and Charcot at Paris, of Griessinger at Berlin, and Meyer at Hopkins. By any measure, he was eminently successful in his efforts. His vision, anchored in the experience of the past, provided the foundation fora solid future. One of his house officers during those early years, Dr. Melvin Sabshin, currently Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, well remembers the psychiatric wards at Charity Hospital, including the fever wards designated for the treatment of syphilis. Twentyfive years before, VonJauregg, recognizing the exquisite sensitivity of the tréponème to pyrexia induced by malaria, had developed fever therapy for the treatment of syphilis. Dr. Sabshin recalls: "The trick for the doctors and nurses was never to let the mosquitoes get loose and never get bitten by them. Malaria is a bad disease." It is difficult to realize that in the brief period of a little more than three decades, the field of psychiatry has changed so dramatically. It is, however, not at all difficult to appreciate the fact that Bob Heath contributed significantly to that change.

Although a champion of the medical tradition in psychiatry, emphasizing the neurophysiologic basis of human behavior and psychopathology, and devoting his professional life to research, inquiry, and teaching in the field. Heath remained, in the eyes of some, a paradox, since he also promoted psychoanalysis and established a psychoanalytic training clinic for residents, patterned after the Columbia program.

In his 3 1 years as Chairman, he published 360 scientific papers issuing from his research, and he served as author and editor of three books. During those 31 years, his Department participated in the primary medical education of nearly 4,000 physicians and more than 300 practitioners certified in psychiatry and neurology, many in both.

A member of numerous professional and scholastic societies. Bob Heath was a charismatic figure on the national forum, championing the medical model in psychiatry with a firm and unswerving determination, and holding views that were often criticized by his colleagues. Heath's recognition at a national level came late in his career. In 1972, he received the Gold Medal Award of the Society of Biological Psychiatry for pioneering research in biological psychiatry, and two years later he was honored with the Frieda FrommReichmann Award of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis "for incisive, scientific, and highly significant work in the neurophysiological, experimental, phenomenological, and therapeutic parameters of schizophrenia."

Bob Heath will remain a prominent figure in the history of 20th century psychiatry. Through his research, he has made signal contributions to our understanding of the neural basis of the mind, healthy and disordered. As a clinician and scientist, he contributed significantly to critical advances in this field, while as a teacher he inspired his students and residents in the pursuit of excellence. Above all, he preserved and advanced the medical model, that paradigm that underpins the long history of our specialty. Although his views were often unpopular, like Semmelweis, he maintained them with the courage and determination that should inspire generations of physicians to come.

10.3928/0048-5713-19830501-08

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