Kenneth D. Altshuler, M.D., passed away on January 6, 2021. Dr. Altshuler was a dear friend, a remarkable leader in mental health care, and a mentor to many. He was a driver of innovation and progress in the field of psychiatry and poured his soul into his work and to those in need. He played a vital role in leadership at UT Southwestern Medical Center, serving for decades and creating a legacy of tremendous contribution and progress.
“Dr. Altshuler was a leader and a builder who invested his time and talents to benefit others. His enormous contributions in building mental health care for North Texas will never be forgotten.”
-Kathleen M. Gibson, President and CEO, Southwestern Medical Foundation
Service and Leadership
During Dr. Altshuler’s lifetime, he made countless contributions to his field, garnering national recognition for his breakthroughs, and taking on several leadership roles across the United States to further mental health care and research.
He received his B.A. from Cornell University and completed his M.D. from the University of Buffalo in 1952. In 1961, he was board certified in psychiatry, and a year later he became certified in psychoanalytic medicine by Columbia University.
Dr. Altshuler began his career in education as Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he was also Director of Medical Education (Psychiatry) and a Training Analyst at the University’s Psychoanalytic Clinic for Training and Research.
In 1977, he was named UT Southwestern’s Chair of Psychiatry and spent the next 23 years helping the department rise to national stature and recognition, expanding mental health services and capabilities. He served on the faculty of UT Southwestern for more than four decades as Professor of Psychiatry.
During his role as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, he made tremendous strides in developing, building, and growing the Department and assuring its impact. Dr. Altshuler raised more than $50 million to fund ten named chairs and two research centers.
Dr. Altshuler served on the Medical Advisory Board of the Zale Lipshy University Hospital, and in 1989, the Hospital’s psychiatric unit was named in his honor and in recognition of the depth of his contributions.
Just as his advocacy and support for the Medical Center endured well after his retirement, so did his legacy.
Upon his retirement in 2019, Dr. Altshuler was named Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, a gesture of gratitude for the innumerable ways in which he shaped the Department.
“I can think of no faculty member more deserving of the Professor Emeritus honor. His contributions to the academic and clinical missions of the Psychiatry Department have been truly stellar.”
-Dr. Carol Tamminga, Professor and Chair of Psychiatry, when Dr. Altshuler was appointed the position
Dr. Altshuler’s tireless efforts to advance mental health care have received recognition across the nation.
In 1983, he became the very first holder of the Stanton Sharp Chair in Psychiatry. Programs established by Dr. Altshuler have twice won the American Psychiatric Association’s Certificate of Significant Achievement, and he has twice been given the Dallas County Mental Health Association’s award for Distinguished Community Service.
Dr. Altshuler’s mark on the field of psychiatry was just as far-reaching as it was transformative. During his career, he wrote more than 140 papers and books, leading innovative research development in topics ranging from genetics, psychoanalysis, geriatrics, and the relationship between sleep and dreams.
He was an active member of the board for many organizations, including the Texas Department of Mental Health and Retardation, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the National Board of Medical Examiners, and the American Association of Chairs of Departments of Psychiatry.
Passion and Generosity
Dr. Altshuler and his late wife, Ruth Altshuler, worked together as a team to advance health care in our region. They shared many passions and supported one another in the pursuit of answers to intractable questions and issues. Together, they created a legacy rooted in generosity, philanthropy, and progress.
The Altshulers believed in the immeasurable value of investing in the future of our community and established two significant funds at Southwestern Medical Foundation. The Ruth and Ken Altshuler Fund for Clinical Psychiatry was established in honor of Dr. Eric Nestler and supports operational costs at UT Southwestern, including the salaries of key psychiatry specialists and life-saving clinical programs. The Kenneth Z. Altshuler Fund for Psychiatric Education pushes innovation forward by increasing exposure of outstanding scientists in psychiatric research to clinical faculty, residents, staff, and community physicians.
The many contributions of Ruth and Ken Altshuler live on in institutions throughout Texas. In 2012, the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at UT Dallas created the Ruth and Ken Altshuler Callier Care Award in their honor. The annual award recognizes individual or group efforts that better the community and advance the care of patients with communication disorders. In 2014, Metrocare established the Altshuler Center for Education and Research, which offers training and clinical research opportunities for public mental health professionals.
Dr. Altshuler spent his life in service to others and remains an inspiring example of passion, progress, and generosity. He will be missed by all who knew him as a mentor, supporter, caregiver, and friend.