Darrell Kirch, M.D.: "I'm very concerned that we are facing a
deepening physician shortage that will only exacerbate the problems we already
Psychiatrist Darrell Kirch, M.D., will be the next president of the
Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Kirch will succeed Jordan
Cohen, M.D., who will step down in June as president of the national
organization representing the nation's medical schools. Kirch is senior vice
president for health affairs at Pennsylvania State University, dean of its
medical school, and chief executive officer of Penn State Milton S. Hershey
APA Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., who has known Kirch since
he was in medical school and residency at the University of Colorado and
Scully was on the faculty there, said his appointment to head the AAMC is a
boon to medical education.
"He's a star," Scully said. "He's an extraordinarily
gifted and creative thinker about medical education, its challenges, and where
it needs to go in the coming years. It's good to know that real talent is
recognized, whatever his specialty."
During APA's President's Summit on Medical Education last April, Kirch gave
a plenary session address titled "Financing and Organizational Turmoil
in the Academic Health Center: Is It a Crisis or an Opportunity for Medical
"APA is proud that one of our own will be leading the AAMC,"
said Deborah Hales, M.D., director of APA's Division of Education and Career
Development. "He is an outstanding leader who will serve all of medicine
Kirch was dean of the school of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia
from 1994 to 2000 and in 1995 became dean of the school of graduate studies
there. In 1998, he took on the additional role of senior vice president for
clinical activities, overseeing the hospitals and clinical practices of the
Earlier in his career, Kirch served in a number of leadership positions at
the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), including medical director of
the Neuropsychiatric Research Hospital. He became acting scientific director
of NIMH in 1993.
Kirch also has an extensive history of involvement in the AAMC, having been
a member of the association's Executive Council since 2001. And he is the
current cochair of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the
organization that accredits medical schools in the United States.
In an interview with Psychiatric News, Kirch outlined challenges
and opportunities for medical education, emphasizing the looming physician
"I'm very concerned that we are facing a deepening physician shortage
that will only exacerbate the problems we already have with shortages in rural
and some urban areas," he said. "If you look at population growth
over the last 20 years and the number of medical school places, we have had a
decrease in the number of physicians per capita. There is clear evidence that
we are increasingly reliant on international medical graduates."
Kirch noted that in the last two years the AAMC has reversed policy and is
now encouraging medical schools to increase capacity. "We are already
seeing that beginning to have an impact," he said.
He said the AAMC's long-term strategy is to continue its advocacy for
public support of medical education.
"I am deeply concerned by the way some public schools are receiving
decreasing support from state governments," he said. "There is a
parallel to that on the federal side with funding for medical research that is
being severely constrained."
Kirch said he believes the perception of psychiatry in the larger field of
medical education has changed dramatically for the better in the past three
decades—a phenomenon reflected in the overrepresentation of
psychiatrists as deans of the nation's medical schools.
"As psychiatry has improved its research base and become a more
effective partner with other specialties, the credibility of the profession
has grown," he said.
But the attraction of students to psychiatry is affected as well by the
economic climate and the larger health care system.
"That's a challenge that is not unique to psychiatry," Kirch
said. "Throughout medicine, current financial models are putting more
and more limits on time spent with the patient. The students entering the
profession have real questions about that. They come to psychiatry especially
because they crave direct interaction with patients. We need to find a balance
between the technical work of medicine and the human work of building
relationships with patients."
Kirch said his own training in psychiatry has prepared him well to be a
leader in medical education. "I think my ability to be an effective
organizational leader derives from the special training as a psychiatrist I
received," he said. "The combination of understanding and
appreciating the science of medicine and at the same time emphasizing the
building of relationships has served me well in the roles I've been