Skip Navigation Celebrating America's Women Physicians
Changing the face of Medicine Home Physicians
Resources Activities



Dr. Leah J. Dickstein

Year of Birth / Death

1934 - 2019

Medical School

University of Louisville School of Medicine



Career Path

Dr. Leah J. Dickstein


I can recall wanting to become a psychiatrist at age 8 years. Only decades later, I learned about 3 men psychiatrists in my extended family as well as other physicians in my paternal grandmother's and father's generation.


Psychiatrist Leah J. Dickstein was a former president of the American Medical Women's Association and vice president of the American Psychiatric Association. Her innovative Health Awareness Workshop Program, at the University of Louisville, was based on her experience attending medical school while raising a family. The popular program, which covered everything from individual well-being to personal relationships, as well as race and gender issues, made the University of Louisville one of the nation's most family-friendly medical colleges.

In 1966, after six years working as a sixth-grade teacher in Brooklyn to support her medical student husband, Herbert Dickstein, Leah Dickstein entered medical school herself. She was one of only six women in her class, and had to balance her academic responsibilities with the demands of raising three sons. She was clear about her priorities and expectations, and chose to save Saturdays and summers for family activities, rather than graduate at the top of her class. Her husband, a pathologist, helped keep her close to her sons, even bringing them to visit her at the hospital when she was on call during her residency. She and her family made a number of practical adjustments as well. They ate off paper plates to save clean-up time, and she became an early devotee of permanent-press clothing. She jokes that one of her sons even asked her what an iron was when he found it in the closet, as supposedly he'd never seen one in use.

Her practical experience, and the skills and strategies she developed to cope with everyday challenges of being physician and mother, became the basis for an innovative Health Awareness Workshop Program she directed since 1981. The program addressed everything from study skills and time-management to exercise and nutrition and community resources and mentoring. Many of the presentations and materials were authored by senior medical students. The message was that students must take care of their own physical and mental health before they could learn to take care of others. As director, Dr. Dickstein helped teach medical students and their partners how to cope with the demands of medical school.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I did not begin medical school until age 32 after becoming an inner city Brooklyn schoolteacher (P.S. 110). When I entered Brooklyn College at age 17 in September 1951, Dr. N. Kiell (a psychologist and admissions advisor) told me I had no scientific ability. Thus, I did not tell him of my longstanding dream.

How do I make a difference?

I have always tried to help all women and men medical students, residents, faculty and patients, locally and nationally.

Who was my mentor?

Cornelia Binwell Wilbur, M.D. (Lexington, Kentucky) who treated Sybil; Alexandra Symonds, M.D., New York City psychiatrist-psychoanalyst; Jean Baker Miler, M.D., psychiatrist-psychoanalyst in Boston.

How has my career changed over time?

I established the first University of Louisville student mental health service in 1975, then when it was eliminated in 1981 I moved to the Health Sciences Center and continued treating medical students, residents and graduate students and also became Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the medical school. Then I became associate dean for Faculty and Student Advocacy and created the office, from 1989 through 2002 when I retired from full-time employment. It was the only such office in the world and worked extremely well. I developed protective programs for junior women and men, faculty, M.D.s, and Ph.D.s, a regional annual program for women faculty from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana and many first of their kind proactive support programs for medical students, beginning in 1978 with the student health promotion for entering students and their significant others, and children's day. All were voluntary and very successful, and 985 of the class attended.

Other programs include the Health Awareness Workshop, the Student Outreach at the University of Louisville Program in the 1990s, the Advocates Program, the Health Awareness Newsletter from 1980-2002 and the S.O.U.L. Awards (1990s).

Photo Gallery

Media Links