During his medical residency, some 32 years ago, Lowry Bushnell told his fiancée that he wanted to become a psychiatrist, which was — and may still be — viewed as the “bottom of the barrel” of medical specialties.
“We won’t get any respect,” he warned, “or make any money.”
To which the future Becky Bushnell quipped: “Lowry, I’m from Kearns and you’re from Tooele, we’ve never had any respect or money.”
Bushnell, the clinical director of the Treatment Resistant Mood Disorders Clinic at the University of Utah, may have been right about the salary part but not the respect.
Today, he is a recognized leader in the field of psychiatry and one of the few providers of electroconvulsive therapy services for people with severe depression and bipolar disorder.
On Tuesday, he became one of six individuals awarded the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair. The new faculty position provides financial support to doctors, academic researchers and educators from a variety of fields, from psychiatry and dentistry to obstetrics and gynecology.
This first round of six appointments begins July 1, 2018, and will end June 30, 2023, with the possibility of a one-time additional five-year renewal option. Six additional faculty members will be appointed to the remaining six chairs by July 1, 2019.
Named for the late businessman, philanthropist and founder of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the $22.5 million gift for all 12 presidential chairs “was the last donation my father made before passing away,” said Peter R. Huntsman of the Huntsman Family Foundation.
The family-owned and -operated foundation is separate from the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, a public entity with the sole purpose of raising money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, he said.
Huntsman called the donation a “multigenerational commitment.”
While the family, he said in an interview, “is synonymous with cancer research and care, there is a great deal of interest, particularly as the family expands, to increase its commitment to other health sciences, not just cancer.”
That long-term view was outlined last October after weeks of turmoil that began with the firing of Huntsman Cancer Institute leader Mary Beckerle — who later was reinstated — and ended when University of Utah Health Care CEO Vivian Lee resigned from her post.
At that time, the U. and the Huntsman Family Foundation extended their partnership to advance research and clinical care at the school. The framework largely centered on cementing the future of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, founded by Jon and Karen Huntsman with a mission to eradicate cancer.
In addition, the Huntsmans outlined support to the U.’s health sciences to address other medical needs and specified the creation of 12 presidential chairs to support faculty.
A presidential chair is the highest honor a faculty member can achieve, U. President Ruth V. Watkins said Tuesday during an awards ceremony at the Alumni House. Not only do the positions honor leaders in their respective fields, but they also will help the school keep and attract talented faculty.
“It promotes academic excellence, and the impact will last for decades to come,” she said before giving each recipient a medal, a certificate and an actual wooden chair — an academic symbol that dates back to the 16th century.
In addition to Bushnell, the first of 12 recipients of the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chairs are:
Nathan G. Adams • He is a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon whose research and clinical practice focus on surgical correction around the face, mouth and neck. In particular, Adams specializes in addressing jaw deformities, which can be particularly painful, to restore function and aesthetic appearance. At the U.’s School of Dentistry, Adams is leading the use of virtual and augmented reality to enhance surgical techniques and instruction.
Angela Fagerlin • She is an experimental psychologist. Her research examines how medical information is communicated to patients to best involve them in decision-making. With new advances in technology and health advocacy, more patients than ever have access to information. Fagerlin studies how patients interact with information, how they use it to make decisions and the resulting impact on their health. Fagerlin leads a collaboration between the U. and the Mayo Clinic that last week received a $5 million grant to study how patients interact with information about their hearts.
Wendy Chapman • She is a nationally renowned scholar and researcher in biomedical informatics. Her studies focus on natural language processing, a means of using computational power to pull data from doctors’ notes and health records that are otherwise hidden from automated analyses. In so doing, such records are transformed into an active tool to help health care providers make better decisions, prevent errors and follow guidelines for the best medical care.
Robert Paine III • Since 2007, Paine has led the division of pulmonary medicine in its multiple missions within the U. and is actively engaged in clinical care, basic and clinical research, and medical education. Paine has a long-term research interest in alveolar cell biology — cells that line the surface of cavities inside the lungs — in health and disease. He directs a research laboratory investigating how the lung defends itself against a variety of assaults, including infection, air pollution and other environmental factors. He also is involved in human studies to understand chronic smoking-related illnesses.
Howard Sharp • He is a nationally recognized expert on pelvic pain and surgical complications. As new gynecological surgical technologies emerge and move into practice nationally, Sharp and colleagues analyze data to look for unexpected complications or side effects. In so doing, he aims to raise the safety, reliability and efficacy for these types of surgeries, thereby improving health on a global scale.
For the 70-year-old Bushnell, it’s the second time that he has benefited from the Huntsman family generosity. In 2011, after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — and given a low chance of survival — he was treated at the Huntsman Cancer Institute with radiation and chemotherapy.
“I’m still alive and in remission,” said a teary-eyed Bushnell. “I hate to think what would happen if Jon Huntsman hadn’t started that hospital.”
The father of five daughters — and five grandchildren with one on the way — Bushnell was surprised by his presidential chair selection because these honors usually go to researchers, and as a clinician, he still meets daily with patients.
The financial support “will allow me to spend more time with students and doctors to improve their skills,” he said, and pass on the wisdom he has learned.
Given Utah’s and the country’s high suicide rates, he said, quality mental health professionals are needed more than ever.
“Unfortunately, there is a general disregard for people with mental illness,” he said, so federal programs to help this population are underfunded. And there are caps on residency training programs at universities.
While many people envision the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when they hear of electroconvulsive or “shock” therapy, the medical procedure in which Bushnell specializes is nothing like the Hollywood depiction.
The procedures are done with anesthesia, and family, friends or whomever the patient invites can be in the room for the highly successful treatments, which cause electrically induced seizures.
Just like resetting your computer when it’s not working properly, the seizure has a “rebooting effect” on the brain, Bushnell explained, adding that the treatments have helped religious leaders, professional athletes and politicians overcome their mental illnesses and lead happy, healthy lives.
“I’ve been hurt and tired and scared and angry in my career,” he said, “but not for a moment since 1978 have I ever wondered if I did the right thing.”
Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune, is a son of the late Jon M. Huntsman Sr.