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Psychiatry Faculty Member Honored for Lifetime Contributions to the Field

Dr. Iverson Bell

For self-described “worker bee” Iverson Bell, MD, the past few months have been exciting.

A member of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center since 2010, Dr. Bell has been recognized by his peers for his lifetime work in his field.

The American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training established the Dr. Iverson Bell, Jr. Faculty Fellowship Award. According to the association, the award promotes the professional growth of outstanding underrepresented in medicine (URiM) psychiatrists and recognizes their potential to contribute to the field of psychiatry. It also encourages mentoring for junior and mid-career psychiatric faculty.

In November, Dr. Bell also received the Elam Black Psychiatrists of America Lifetime Achievement Award from the Black Psychiatrists of America. The award is named for Lloyd Elam, who established the psychiatry department and residency program at Meharry Medical College and was the college’s president from 1968-1981.

“I’m not really used to getting awards,” Dr. Bell said. “I’ve always been kind of a worker bee in the background and busy doing other stuff but I’m not usually the person up front. So, I was surprised to get an award and honored somebody recognized that I’ve been doing some work.”

Dr. Bell served as an associate professor and residency training director in the Department of Psychiatry at UT Health Science Center for 13 years, beginning in 2010. In 2020, he served a short stint as interim chair. He retired in July and moved to Atlanta to be near family. However, he still works part time, training psychiatry residents and seeing patients via Zoom.

Dr. Bell completed his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University. He did his psychiatry training at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and specialty training in child psychiatry at Emory University. He also taught and directed the psychiatric residency program at Morehouse School of Medicine from 1983-2000.

“During medical school, I was not the slightest bit interested in anything other than family medicine or maybe pediatrics,” he said. “And then I had a rotation in my clerkships in psychiatry when I was at Vanderbilt and I was really impressed and enjoyed it and I felt like I could really make a difference. It struck my heart. So, I decided to pursue that in my third year of medical school and have enjoyed doing that ever since.”

Throughout his career, he has combined his love for clinical practice with a dedication to train the future generations psychiatrists. He is especially committed to increasing the ranks of Black psychiatrists.

“There are 56,000 psychiatrists in the United States and probably right around 1,200 Black psychiatrists,” he said. “So, there is a tiny number of us, and I’ve been kind of working since the 1990s to increase that number.”

“Between working at Morehouse School of Medicine and finally UT Health Science Center, I’ve been either teaching medical students or training psychiatry residents and hopefully helping to increase the number of psychiatrists, but specifically underrepresented minorities, because there aren’t many of us.”

Dr. Bell recognizes this is an uphill battle. “Psychiatry has been kind of stigmatized in the minority communities,” he said. “In some places, psychiatry has been abused.”

Still, during his career, Dr. Bell has done his part to increase the ranks of psychiatrists, estimating he has taught between 200 and 300 residents.

Dr. Bell also encourages more Black psychiatrists to become involved in academic medicine like he has. “I’ve been trying to recruit and encourage underrepresented minorities to be involved with residency training,” he said. Currently, he said he is one of 60 Black residency training directors out of more than 500 child and adult psychiatry residency training directors in the U.S.

“It is very gratifying to learn that Dr. Bell has received national recognition from the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and the Black Psychiatrists of America,” said Ronald Cowan, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at UT Health Science Center. “Dr. Bell has served as a mentor and role model for many aspiring psychiatrists, and especially so for underrepresented minority trainees. He led an exceptional psychiatry residency training program at UT Health Science Center that is among the richest clinical training residency experiences in the nation. He was also a visionary pioneer in telepsychiatry care delivery and resident education in telepsychiatry long before telepsychiatry became commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. These honors are a fitting and well-deserved tribute to the many contributions that Dr. Bell has made to psychiatry and psychiatric education.”