APA distinguished fellow E. Cameron Ritchie, M.D., was promoted to full
colonel in the Army Medical Corps last month. This milestone caps 18 years of
active-duty service and numerous other accomplishments.
Highly regarded by her military colleagues, Ritchie recently became
president-elect of the Society of Uniformed Services Psychiatrists, an APA
A psychiatrist colleague at Walter Reed Army Medical Center described
Ritchie recently as a "Type A personality with an adventurous
side." Her resume reflects both
Col. E. Cameron Ritchie, M.C., stands in front of the Tigris River in
Medical City, Baghdad. Shortly after this picture was taken, red spots from a
sniper scope were observed on her back by her colleagues. The group decided to
leave the area and return to the Green Zone, the area in Baghdad where the
coalition headquarters is located.
Last month, Ritchie received her master of public health degree after
completing her first year of the new Disaster Psychiatry Fellowship at the
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) (Psychiatric
News, July 18, 2003). Ritchie is an associate professor of psychiatry at
Ritchie will spend her second fellowship year doing research at the USUHS
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. She plans to use her recently
acquired epidemiological and biostatistical skills to survey the approximately
88 members of the Iraqi Society of Psychiatrists (ISP). She will collect
information to help determine what mental health services the Iraqis need in
light of 30 years of conflict, sanctions, and limited resources, said Ritchie.
This information will be provided to individual and organizational
stakeholders as Iraq reconstructs its medical and mental health systems.
She has met with leaders of the ISP several times and attended and
presented at a joint U.S./Iraqi medical specialty forum in Baghdad in February
(Psychiatric News, April 2) on behalf of APA. She also participated
with an ISP leader and other international leaders in a presidential symposium
at the APA annual meeting in New York in May.
Ritchie is also organizing a workshop that will be held this month at USUHS
to learn from psychiatrists deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan about what
treatments have been most effective in preventing combatstress disorders and
reducing psychiatric symptoms in soldiers.
A research project that Ritchie is helping to plan will assess which
medications are the most effective in reducing psychiatric symptoms following
incidents of mass violence. "There has been a lot of research on
psychological interventions [after traumatic events], but very little on
medications," Ritchie said.
She is the principal author of the landmark 2002 report "Mass
Violence and Mental Health: Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions for
Victims/Survivors of Mass Violence" (Psychiatric News, October
18, 2002). The report, published by the Government Printing Office, was the
outcome of a 2000 best-practices consensus workshop organized by the
Department of Defense and other federal agencies. Ritchie and 50 trauma
experts participated in the workshop.
Ritchie was assigned to, though not at, the Pentagon when the terrorist
attack occurred there on September 11, 2001. "There were many mental
health workers who responded. I helped to coordinate the response in the
difficult weeks following the attack," she said.
She has since written several articles and a book chapter (in press) on the
mental health response to the Pentagon attack and was chief editor of a book
devoted to this topic. She engaged in these activities while serving as
program director for mental health policy and women's health issues in the
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defense for Clinical and Program Policy.
She resigned last year after four years to begin her disaster-psychiatry
fellowship at USUHS.FIG2
Col. Cameron Ritchie and her colleagues Larry Ronan, M.D. (to left of
Ritchie), an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Ed Keenan, M.D.
(to right of Ritchie), a pediatrician at Massuchsetts General Hospital, are
given a tour of the emergency room of the pediatric teaching hospital in
Baghdad. Recovery of the very sick children there is hampered by poor
sanitation, shortage of medications, and lack of equipment.
While at the Department of Defense, Ritchie drew attention to health issues
that affect women during deployment. These include hygiene, pregnancy
screening, earlier Pap testing, increased availability of good medical care,
and increased research into women's health during deployments, according to
Ritchie's article "Issues for Military Women in Deployment" in the
December 2001 Military Medicine.
Ritchie also raised safety concerns in the article about military
deployment policies that require women in the same unit as men to sleep in
Ritchie said she and another woman physician were put in harm's way due to
this policy when their 12-member preventive medicine unit was deployed to
Somalia during Operation Restore Hope in 1993.
"The Marine Corps general in charge of the operation had decreed that
military men and women would sleep in separate areas," said Ritchie."
I wanted to remain with my unit because I thought we would be safer all
together. Instead, the female physicians had to walk quite a distance, and one
of us had to stand guard outside our tent constantly to prevent theft. At one
point, the men were warned about upcoming tensions and probable gunfire. When
the bullets flew over the wall, the men retreated to the safety of a walled
complex, but since no one warned us, we were stranded outside the tent,"
Ritchie experienced isolation for different reasons during her first
overseas tour of duty in South Korea from July 1990 to June 1991. "I was
the first female psychiatrist assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp
Casey, near the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. The
location was remote and hours from the capital, Seoul," said
"Although there were other female medical officers there, we were
still a minority, and I felt I was living in a glass bowl most of the
She added, "I was also halfway around the world from my family and
friends, and communication was mainly by slow mail."
Ritchie returned to South Korea for her second tour of duty in July 1994 as
chief of inpatient psychiatry at the 121st General Hospital in Seoul.
Forensic psychiatry is a long-standing interest of Ritchie's. She achieved"
added qualifications" in forensic psychiatry in 1994.
She has testified for both the defense and prosecution in more than 28
trials in military and civilian courts. Her areas of expertise include
competency, reactions to rape, posttraumatic stress disorder, child sexual
abuse, and delusional disorder.
"A significant forensic accomplishment was getting the military to
change its policy on psychological autopsies. The military no longer requires
psychological autopsies be done routinely after all suicides, but only when
the [cause of] death is equivocal," Ritchie said.
This change was important for many reasons including protecting the privacy
of the deceased. For example, a reporter obtained sensitive personal
information through the Freedom of Information Act from the psychological
autopsies of military personnel who committed suicide and published it in a
newspaper, Ritchie explained.
Her last clinical position at Walter Reed Health Care System was chief of
forensic psychiatry from 1998 to 1999.
Ritchie entered active duty in 1983 through the Health Professions
Scholarship Program, which paid for her private medical education. She
received her medical degree in 1986 from George Washington University Medical
She has been married for10 years to a civilian attorney and has two young
children. When asked how she juggles her profesional and family
responsibilities, Ritchie noted that it isn't always easy but that she's very
fortunate to have a supportive family and access to high-quality child care.▪