Memphis Professor Dr. Altha Stewart becomes First African-American to Lead American Psychiatric Association

Dr. Altha Stewart, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, is the  first African American slated to become president of the American Psychiatric Association, which traces its roots to 1844.

Congratulations poured in Tuesday as news spread that the national association’s membership, which includes more than 37,000 physicians, had elected Stewart to become the next president-elect, beginning in May. Her year as president begins in May 2018.

Stewart’s election is unofficial until confirmed by the association’s board in March. The current president-elect, Dr. Anita Everett, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, becomes president at the end of the association’s annual meeting this coming May. Everett will succeed Dr. Maria Oquendo, professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s a very historic election,” Stewart said. “It is the first time that an African American will serve as president of this national organization and also the first time that the succession to presidency includes three women in a row.”

The association’s chief executive and medical director, Dr. Saul Levin, in a statement called it “an historic election for the APA, reflecting the wide diversity of the organization, which is our strength.”

At UTHSC, Stewart is director of the College of Medicine’s Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth, which she was recruited to form in 2015, and the psychiatry department’s chief of social and community psychiatry. A psychiatrist previously working for the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, she’s working to improve services in Shelby County and statewide for youths with behavioral health needs who land in the juvenile justice system.

A study found that 60 percent of children in Shelby County in the juvenile justice system need additional mental health services, she said. Putting a spotlight on the role that childhood trauma plays is one of her goals.

“We are on a mission to educate this community about trauma, its effects on the overall health and well being of our community, and we are not going to stop until we complete that,” Stewart said.

A native Memphian, Stewart went to public schools including Florida Elementary and Carver High School, graduated from Sacred Heart Catholic High School for girls and was in the first class of young women in 1970 at Christian Brothers University, Stewart said. She went to medical school at Temple University.

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Source: Commercial Appeal | Kevin McKenzie