Seth Himelhoch, MD, has served as chair of the UK College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry for the last six years. Dr. Himelhoch will soon bid the Commonwealth goodbye, relocating to the University of Chicago as chair of its department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience. 

Reflecting on his tenure at the University of Kentucky, he affectionally described it as the “best job he’s ever had.” His admiration also extends to his colleagues who are “dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable people within the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and, because of that, have a willingness to explore and push the envelope on what type of treatments can be available for people who are often hard to reach.”  

Under Dr. Himelhoch's leadership, the department of psychiatry has undergone tremendous growth. The department has been able to recruit and retain almost 30 new faculty members and expand its number of advanced practice providers significantly to provide care to more patients. His department also recently established an addiction medicine program designed to train non-psychiatrists to be providers of addiction medicine. 

One of Dr. Himelhoch's proudest achievements is the establishment of an endowed professorship dedicated to psychiatry pedagogy, underscoring the department's strong commitment to education. “This professorship will allow the vice chair of education and training in the department to offer high-end pedagogy training for up-and-coming faculty members, so they can become the next generation of teachers for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he shared. “It is meant to be a generative gift that supports the foundation of education in our discipline.”

Dr. Himelhoch also played a pivotal role in establishing the Appalachian Tobacco Regulatory Science Team (AppalTRuST), a new research center focused on tobacco regulations in the Commonwealth. Dr. Himelhoch is the principal investigator on the project, whose goal is to investigate the impact of federal regulatory policies in rural communities through collaboration, education and pioneering regulatory scientific research.

AppalTRuST is funded over five years with a $19 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Office of the Director of the NIH and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). As part of an interagency partnership, the NIH and FDA award Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) grants that support studies across topics like toxicity, addiction, health effects and marketing.

Beyond academic and clinical advancements, Dr. Himelhoch has championed belonging efforts in his department and across the college. The department hosts an annual Diversity Day for faculty, residents, and staff to come together, build community, and engage in meaningful learning experiences. 

“It was really clear to me that the department had a very strong culture of inclusiveness, a real understanding of the importance of having diversity, and an emerging appreciation of equity,” he shared. “It occurred to me that one way to help the department flourish in these cultural ideas that they already had was to channel it into a day of learning for the entire department.”  

This initiative is a great example of Dr. Himelhoch’s leadership style in action. He believes in “dreaming big” and pushing his colleagues to do the same. He empowers his teams to pursue meaningful work that resonates with their values, resulting in a collaborative environment where learning and growth can thrive.

“It started with helping a group of people that were already interested in this idea by giving them the resources and the freedom to explore, create, and develop a day dedicated to inclusivity,” he reflected. “And it's been amazing—it's the power of letting people flow in their work, allowing people to do what's important to them, and then to share that with the rest of the community.” 

When asked about the impact he hopes to leave behind, he shared, “if you think dreaming big was successful, then continue to dream big. When you do, big dreams can come true.”

“Don't let the pressures and the burdens that come up every day inhibit your freedom to imagine a better department, a better College of Medicine, a better University.”