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Potash to leave Iowa for Johns Hopkins

By Aleksandra Vujicic

Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Dr. James Potash, more fondly referred to as “Jimmy,” has led the Psychiatry Department at the University of Iowa for the past six years, usually with a Java House Earl Grey in hand and a keen eye for detail.

He’s an internationally recognized expert in Mood Disorders and runs a robust genetics lab that looks into the molecular underpinnings of depression and bipolar disorder. And despite his high position the fine points are never lost on Potash, a leader who actively cheers on his team.

Jacob Michaelson, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, was one of 45 new faculty members that Potash brought on during his time at Iowa.

As a new researcher in the department, Michaelson was quite surprised after receiving an incredibly strong score on a national grant application.   

“I wasn’t sure whether I was reading things correctly: the score seemed impossibly good,” Michaelson said. “I took a screenshot and sent it to Jimmy, asking for clarification. Within a few minutes I heard a knock at my office door.  I opened it and Jimmy was there with a beaming smile, and with barely a word he gave me a big congratulatory hug.”

For those who work with Potash, that story isn’t a surprising one, and morale has been high under his leadership.

Potash will be leaving Iowa City at the end of June to become chair of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins.

Although many are sad to see him go, Potash is returning home. He has a long history at Johns Hopkins, beginning with his birth in the Baltimore hospital. He later went on to complete medical school, a medical internship, and psychiatry residency at the prestigious institution before serving as a faculty member there for over a decade.

But the decision to go back East was still a tough one.  

“In spite of the fact that getting the job at Hopkins constitutes a pretty amazing opportunity for me, the decision to leave was hard,” Potash said. “In large part it was hard because I have felt and continue to feel that this is a great department and a great institution. It feels to me like the department is really well positioned right now for continued, and even greater, success.”

And much of the department’s current success is a direct result of Potash’s work.

For starters, he has aggressively and successfully recruited outstanding researchers and clinicians while providing consistent mentorship to over 80 faculty members.

"I think his greatest legacy will be the many talented people that he recruited to the UI,” said Jess Fiedorowicz, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry. “The department has grown considerably during his tenure and developed several areas of expertise."

One of those areas is the Molecular Psychiatry Division, which Potash built from the ground up. The division’s faculty members have brought in millions of dollars in research funding and are featured in top psychiatric and science journals.

The division also successfully set the stage for the development of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, which features a cross-disciplinary group of researchers who are focused on finding causes and treatments for brain disorders. The Institute has already poured $1 million into psychiatric research at Iowa and will continue to be a hub for cutting edge research across multiple departments.

Potash has also built a strong network of administrative support for researchers, including a team of financial experts that have been vital in securing research funding.

“There is no other department in the entire [Carver College of Medicine] that has this level of support and it has made a huge difference in our ability to prepare, submit, and execute grants,” said Peg Nopolous, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Pediatrics and incoming interim chair.  

Potash has also kept clinical care at the top of his list of priorities. He began with appointing Jodi Tate, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, as Vice Chair for Clinical Services. Tate has been tremendously effective in improving clinical services and integrating psychiatry into the larger hospital system. With Potash’s support, Tate also created a specialized team to take care of people with intellectual disabilities.

He boosted psychotherapy training in the department by empowering Scott Temple, PhD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry. Temple set in motion programs such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which has grown and evolved, and the department now offers teen and adult outpatient groups along with specialized skills groups for people on inpatient units.

“Jimmy brought in a lot of energy and passion for psychiatry, not only for research, but for education, and most importantly for patient care,” said Gen Shinozaki, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry. “He genuinely cared about our patients.”

 On top of these successes, Potash has worked to create synergies between the clinical and research side of the equation, urging clinicians and investigators to work together and connect findings in the lab to patients in the clinic.

Ultimately this well-rounded approach has made residency training at Iowa more attractive and competitive for applicants across the country.

"One of the things that distinguish the best departments of psychiatry in the country is that they have research programs that connect from the bedside to the bench, and Jimmy has really done that in his time leading the department,” said Ted Abel, PhD, Director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute.

Aside from all of his accomplishments in the department, Potash has made Iowa City home.

“I just generally really, really like Iowans,” he said. “Iowans are straightforward, down-to-earth, hardworking, conscientious, and community oriented. They’re delightful.”

His 15-minute walk to work will be hard to match.

More from faculty and staff: 

“I was impressed with how genuinely Jimmy adopted Iowa as his home and really dug Iowa's history,” said John Wemmie, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry. “He enjoyed bragging a lot about Psychiatry at Iowa and it’s broad historical influence on the field.”

“Working with Jimmy has been a pure delight,” said Steve Blanchard, department administrator. “Jimmy is a good listener.  He seeks information and understanding about facts, figures and people.  I have experienced him as a balanced decision maker.  He cares about people in the Department at all levels.  He has been inclusive in his efforts to recognize staff at all levels.  He likes to celebrate successes.”

“From patient care, to research, to historical bits of information, each week seemed to be full of facts, strategies, and information that always made work fun and interesting,” said Shirley Harland, Jimmy's assistant. “Jimmy inspired progress and forward thinking, and that is clear when reviewing the multiple accomplishments of not only clinical and research faculty, but staff members, residents, and students too.”

“When I was debating which job I should take before coming to Iowa, I was almost determined to go to Stanford,” Shinozaki said. “But I chose Iowa to work with [Jimmy], and that was one of the most important decisions I made in my career... I felt his trust in me, and I trusted him, and that is why I came to Iowa. Jimmy was more attractive than Stanford.”


Friday, June 30, 2017