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Celebrating the legacy of a beloved mentor and dedicated physician through a new lecture fund

Lectureship in neuropsychiatry honors John F. Sullivan, MD’06 R’12, and his deep commitment to educating others in this growing specialty

John Sullivan

The perpetual dissemination of knowledge is a powerful legacy to leave the world. Before he passed away in June 2022 after a two-year battle with cancer, John F. Sullivan, MD’06 R’12, expressed his wish that a neuropsychiatry lecture fund be established in his memory, making an enduring mark on the field to which he dedicated his career. 

Dr. Sullivan’s connections to UMass Chan included medical student, resident, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology, attending psychiatrist and later medical director in the acute psychiatric unit (8 East) at UMass Memorial Medical Center, the Medical School’s clinical partner, and night and weekend physician at the Psychiatric Treatment and Recovery Center. 

Former students and colleagues speak highly of his expertise as a physician, his comforting presence, the way he treated everyone with compassion and respect, his ability to find hope in difficult situations, his passion for the Boston Bruins and his commitment to his family. 

A generous and thoughtful mentor, Dr. Sullivan “attracted students and residents like a magnet,” said Sheldon Benjamin, MD, professor of psychiatry and neurology, advisor to Dr. Sullivan when he was a medical student as well as his former residency program director. 

After a post-college career in publishing, through which he met his wife, TC Haldi, Dr. Sullivan chose to pursue medicine.  He wanted to “treat the ‘whole head’ as a physician,” said Haldi, completing both his medical degree and residency at UMass Chan, which is one of four medical schools in the country with a combined neurology-psychiatry residency program. 

Dr. Benjamin describes neuropsychiatry, a quickly expanding field, as “existing in a zone where the neurological aspects of psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of neurology converge.” Neuropsychiatrists seek an understanding of the brain-mind relationship that ultimately leads to improved diagnosis and treatment for conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and Parkinson’s disease.  

“John was very suited to neuropsychiatry,” said Dr. Benjamin. “He was incredibly open-minded, with a capacity for asking questions that went straight to the core of a problem, that made you stop and think, and that you didn’t necessarily have an answer for. He was also hysterically funny.” 

As per Dr. Sullivan’s wishes, Haldi contacted Dr. Benjamin about establishing a lecture fund in his name at UMass Chan. “John always said that the one thing he would want in his memory would be a lecture fund for neuropsychiatry that would perpetuate the education of others,” said Haldi. 

Financial contributions to endow the fund were secured through the combined efforts and generosity of Dr. Sullivan’s family, friends and colleagues both at UMass Chan and in the wider neuropsychiatry community. 

“There was an outpouring of support for creating a lectureship in John’s memory,” said Haldi. “We reached our financial goal because of everybody’s generosity.”

An annual John F. Sullivan, MD, Memorial Lectureship in Neuropsychiatry is now part of the UMass Chan Psychiatry Grand Rounds series, a weekly program through which guest speakers share up-to-date clinical knowledge. The inaugural lecture, held in September 2022, featured David Perez, MD, MSC, a faculty member in the departments of neurology and psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, speaking on functional neurologic disorders.  

“John was a champion for neuropsychiatry education,” said Dr. Benjamin. “The lecture fund guarantees that our grand rounds will always celebrate neuropsychiatry and John’s memory.” 

The second lecture, scheduled for October 12, 2023, will feature UMass Chan combined neurology-psychiatry residency alumnus Ankur Butala, MD R’14, assistant professor of neurology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, speaking on digital biomarkers and deep brain stimulation in schizophrenia.

“John loved the UMass neuropsychiatry program,” said Haldi. “After some time at another institution, he wanted to come back to the Medical School, to his roots, and the beautiful collegiality the exists here—this was so important to him. The fund is a beautiful way to carry on John’s legacy.”