Columbia University Names Interim Chair of Psychiatry

Columbia University has appointed an interim chair of psychiatry in the wake of a controversial tweet sent out last week, according to an email obtained by Medscape Medical News that was sent by university leadership to faculty and staff this afternoon.

Helen Blair Simpson, MD, PhD, will take over for Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, who was suspended last week over a tweet he sent February 21 that was widely condemned as both racist and sexist.

She will also serve as interim director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and interim Psychiatrist-in-Chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, the email stated.

All appointments are effective today.

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Simpson, who joined the faculty at Columbia in 1999, previously served as a professor and vice chair of research for the Psychiatry Department, director of Columbia’s Center for Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, and director of Psychiatry Research at NYSPI. Simpson is associate editor of JAMA Psychiatry and is president-elect of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.



Dr Helen Blair Simpson

Her research has been continuously funded by the National Institute of Mental Health since 1999, and she has advised both the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association on the diagnosis and treatment of OCD.

Simpson has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University and completed an MD-PhD program at The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine. She did her residency in psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian.

The announcement is Columbia’s latest response to the furor that erupted on social media following Lieberman’s tweet about Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech, in which he wrote, “Whether a work of art or a freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold.”

Twitter reacted immediately and negatively to the tweet, which even Lieberman later acknowledged was “racist and sexist” in an email apology he sent last Tuesday to faculty and staff in the Department of Psychiatry.

As reported by Medscape Medical News, Columbia suspended Lieberman from his chair position Wednesday and permanently removed him from the post of psychiatrist-in-chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Lieberman also resigned as executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

The email announcing Simpson’s appointment was signed by Katrina Armstrong, MD, incoming chief executive officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons; Anil K. Rustgi, MD, interim executive vice president and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine; Steven J. Corwin, MD; president and chief executive officer, NewYork-Presbyterian; and Ann Marie Sullivan, MD, commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health.

This is a developing story.

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