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UTHSC’s Altha Stewart, MD, Named President-Elect of American Psychiatric Association, Becomes First African-American to Lead the Organization

Dr. Altha Stewart is the president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association. Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC

Altha Stewart, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), today was named president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). She is the first African-American to lead the more than 37,000-member organization, which sets policy, establishes practice guidelines, and represents the field of psychiatry nationally and internationally.

The results of the election by the organization’s membership were made public today, and will be official when ratified by the APA board of directors in March. Dr. Stewart, who is also chief of Social and Community Psychiatry at UTHSC, will serve as president-elect beginning in May, and will assume the role of president in May 2018. She is the fourth woman in a row to head the association.

“I am honored and humbled by my selection by my fellow members,” Dr. Stewart said. “The APA and the profession of psychiatry have made great strides in the past several years, but much more work is needed. We have to take a proactive role to ensure that our patients receive the quality psychiatric treatment they deserve. We live in trying times, but I’m excited to take on this leadership role.”

Dr. Stewart is a native Memphian. She grew up in South Memphis, graduated from public and parochial schools, and was among the first class of women admitted to what is now Christian Brothers University. She received her medical degree from Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia, and did her residency at Hahnemann University Hospital there.

Dr. Stewart is a nationally recognized expert in public sector and minority issues in mental health care, and in the effects of trauma and violence on children. She was recruited to UTHSC in 2015 by David Stern, MD, Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the College of Medicine, to lead the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth. The center aims to reduce the number of young people in the juvenile justice system by addressing the trauma and exposure to violence that often contribute to the behavior that lands them there.

Taking a major step toward that goal in September, UTHSC and Dr. Stewart assumed the reins of Defending Childhood Shelby, the community initiative to improve the lives of all children in Shelby County.

Dr. Stewart has held many leadership positions in the APA. She also served as president of the Association of Women Psychiatrists and president of the Black Psychiatrists of America.

“This was a historic election for the APA, reflecting the wide diversity of the organization, which is our strength,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, MD, MPA. “I look forward to working with Dr. Stewart and want to personally congratulate all the winners.”

As APA president, Dr. Stewart said she will strive to improve communication among members and across medical specialties to promote collaboration and access to care. She also plans to increase mentoring and encourage leadership opportunities for the next generation in the profession.