Herbert Pardes, MD

2016 Recipient, Special Tribute

The United Hospital Fund periodically recognizes individuals who have had a significant impact on health care in New York and have earned the respect and admiration of UHF and the health care community. This year we are pleased to salute Dr. Herbert Pardes for his important contributions to New York and to health care.

Empathy is an important quality for every medical professional, but Herbert Pardes, MD, has made it a personal signpost, one that motivates his work, anchors his leadership, and governs his life. His definition of the word is a demanding one, challenging colleagues throughout his numerous spheres of influence to be guided by it as well. It is at the very core of this extraordinary man’s legacy as a world-class medical and civic leader.

Herb’s drive to understand and relieve human suffering, together with his unwavering commitment to excellence, belief in the power of science and medicine, and ability to motivate and mobilize others, have directly benefited NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, our city, and our nation for more than half a century.

His passion, vision, and deep desire to help change the world were formed early on. A childhood hospitalization—twelve days spent mostly alone, given limited visiting hours even for parents—certainly struck a chord. But Herb truly felt his calling to medicine, specifically psychiatry, when—as part of a second-year college abnormal psychology course—a class visit to a state hospital provided horrifying testimony to the limits of mental health care. An enduring interest in human behavior and determination to use science to grapple with profound problems were born.

Herb’s deep understanding of the human condition has always been more than an admirable personal quality and leadership trait: it has spurred concrete and lasting achievements. Colleagues say “everything he touches becomes better.” Just 12 years after his 1960 graduation from the State University of New York College of Medicine he became, at 37, chairman of the department of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

A three-year stint in a similar role at the University of Colorado Medical Center followed, and set the stage for his first national leadership role, as director of the National Institute of Mental Health during the Carter administration and into the early years of the Reagan presidency. Hailed by many as the “best director in the history of NIMH,” he worked swiftly and effectively, doubling the Institute’s budget, building its scientific ranks, and helping to destigmatize mental illness. All the while, he honed his political skills, built lasting alliances, and learned the inner workings of government—making him an invaluable advocate for mental health care and foreshadowing his legendarily effective advocacy that continues today.

Herb’s return to New York in 1984 to chair Columbia’s department of psychiatry and lead the New York State Psychiatric Institute began a decades-long love affair with the university and its affiliated hospitals. His talents as a builder and innovator with a common touch made him the logical choice to become vice president for health sciences and dean of the faculty of medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1989, beginning a tenure that cemented the college’s reputation as a first-tier medical school.

A decade later, his appointment as president of the newly formed NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, a position he held from 2000 until 2011, was again the natural choice. His leadership was marked by the institution’s growing prominence, his deft melding of the merged hospitals’ different cultures, his uncompromising commitment to medical research, medical education, and patient care, and his great gifts as a fundraiser. To date, Herb has raised some $3 billion for Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian, and he continues to play an important role in advancing philanthropic efforts in support of their work.

Despite his extensive CV, many of Herb’s contributions to American medicine and New York are written only in the memories and anecdotes of colleagues and patients. He is clearly constitutionally unable to refuse to help when he knows his skills and experience can make a difference. Whether as an outspoken champion of academic medicine; an important and reliable voice guiding and articulating the priorities of the Greater New York Hospital Association, the New York Genome Center, the New York eHealth Collaborative, and other local leadership organizations; or as a board member or advisor to mental health organizations working to ease the struggle of patients and families and understand the mysteries of the brain, Herb Pardes is “all in” all the time.

On behalf of the health care and mental health care community and the people it serves, our state, and our country, United Hospital Fund is proud to pay tribute to Dr. Herbert Pardes for truly embodying the word and the practice of empathy, and for his unstinting pursuit of excellence and caring.


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