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Professor Emeritus Receives Prominent Psychiatry Award

Max Fink

Max Fink, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology Emeritus at the School of Medicine, will receive the Thomas William Salmon Award for outstanding contributions to the field of psychiatry, presented by the New York Academy of Medicine’s Salmon Committee on Psychiatry and Mental Hygiene on November 29.

Each year the Salmon Medal is given to a prominent specialist in psychiatry, neurology, or mental hygiene who has made a major impact on his or her field. When Fink accepts the medal, he will join Adolf Meyer, Karl Menninger, John Bowbly, Julius Axelrod, and other luminaries in psychiatry who have received the award, which was first given in 1932.

“It humbles me to be in the company of such movers and shakers,” said Fink, a Stony Brook faculty member since 1972. “This is a very distinguished group of people, and I am honored to be in their company as a recipient of this award.”

“Dr. Fink was chosen for this award because of his immense service to medicine and psychiatry,” said Robert Michels, University Professor and former Chair of Psychiatry and Dean of Medicine at Cornell University, and the current chair of the Salmon Award Selection Committee. “Max Fink has had an extraordinary career, promoting high-quality science based on empirical research and focused on patient treatment. He has been a mentor to major researchers who have gone on to make significant contributions of their own, and he has published hundreds of original papers and a dozen books.”

For the past 40 years, Fink has been the world’s leading expert and defender of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). His studies of ECT began at Hillside Hospital in 1952, and he has published broadly on predictors of outcome in ECT, effects of seizures on (electroencephalogram) EEG and speech, hypotheses of the mode of action, and how to achieve an effective treatment. In 1979 he published what medical historian Edward Shorter and internationally recognized psychiatrist David Healy called the “definitive medical text on electroconvulsive shock.”

Fink is also a pioneer in the study of drugs of abuse. He began testing LSD in 1953. In the 1960’s he turned his attention to opioids and marijuana. In the 1970’s he compared the effects of marijuana grown in Mississippi to hashish made in Greece. One outcome of his studies was the recognition that naloxone and cyclazocine could be used in the treatment of opioid overdose and dependence. His research eventually led him to establish a classification of psychoactive drugs by digital computer analysis of EEG and has contributed to the effects of narcotic antagonists and of cannabis.

In more recent years Fink’s research has centered on psychopathology, the syndromes of catatonia and melancholia. By his own account Fink refers to his large body of work as a clinical researcher as “an unusual record.” He considers his career to span 65 years, beginning as a medical trainee when he demonstrated that penicillin, then an experimental drug, was more effective than sulfa for patients with empyema. His study was published in the 1948 edition of Rubin’s Diseases of the Chest.

When Fink came to Stony Brook 39 years ago, the Psychiatry Department’s first chair, Stanley Yolles, encouraged him to pursue his studies of psychoactive substances. That led Fink and his colleagues to identify EEG profiles in patients for more than 60 compounds, facilitating the introduction of several new medications. When Stony Brook University Hospital opened in 1980, Fink set up the ECT service.

Fink has received many prize awards for his research in ECT and in EEG, including the Electroshock Research Award (1956), the A.E. Bennett Award of the Society of Biological Psychiatry (1958), the Anna Monika Prize Award for Research into Depressive Illness (1979), the Laszlo Meduna Prize of the Hungarian National Institute for Nervous and Mental Disease (1986), the Gold Medal Award of the Society of Biological Psychiatry (1988), and Lifetime Achievement Awards of the Psychiatric Times (1995) and of the Society of Biological Psychiatry (1996).

Among Fink’s many publications include major works such as Convulsive Therapy: Theory and Practice (1979); Electroshock: Restoring the Mind (1999); Catatonia: A Clinician’s Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment (2003); Ethics in Electroconvulsive Therapy (2004); Melancholia: The Diagnosis, Pathophysiology and Treatment of Depressive Disorders (2006), and Endocrine Psychiatry (2010).

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