Maria A. Oquendo has been appointed as the third chairholder of the Ruth Meltzer Professorship of Psychiatry and chair of the department of psychiatry.
Dr. Oquendo is a leader of global eminence with an expertise in the diagnosis, pharmacologic treatment and neurobiology of bipolar disorder and major depression, with special emphases on suicidal behavior and global mental health. In 2003, when issues regarding antidepressants’ potential risk for inducing suicidal behavior first arose, Dr. Oquendo and colleagues were commissioned by the FDA to develop a classification system to examine suicide-related events in the data. This system is endorsed by the FDA and CDC and now used worldwide.
Dr. Oquendo first proposed suicidal behavior should be its own diagnostic category in 2008, and succeeded in adding it to DSM-5’s appendix in 2013. Critically, this conceptualization addresses the fact that suicidal behavior occurs in conditions from schizophrenia to autism, not only as a depressive symptom.
As chair of the department, one of Dr. Oquendo’s several goals is to bolster basic neuroscience research capacity, while also looking to combine efforts with internal medicine, family medicine and Penn Medicine’s Clinical Care Associates to develop a sustainable model for contributing to the mental health of the Penn community and beyond.
Dr. Oquendo is president of the American Psychiatric Association, president of the International Academy of Suicide Research, and past president of the American Society of Hispanic Psychiatrists. She is also vice president of the Board of Directors of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a member of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Advisory Council. She is a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and the American College of Psychiatrists. She has authored or co-authored over 350 peer-reviewed articles.
Dr. Oquendo has received multiple awards for her work, most recently: honorary member of the Sociedad Colombiana de Psiquiatria Biologica, honorary member of the Sociedad Española de Psiquiatria Biologica, and the Virginia Kneeland Award for Distinguished Women in Medicine from Columbia University. Dr. Oquendo graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University, attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and completed her residency training at the Payne Whitney Clinic of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
The Ruth Meltzer (PAR’61, PAR’63) Professorship was established in 1992 to compliment the Leon Meltzer (W’23, L’26) Professorship of Law and foster the relationship between the department of psychiatry and the School of Law; the aim was to instruct both psychiatrists-in-training and law students in promoting the healthy growth and development of children.