John Barnhill

DeWitt Wallace Senior Scholar; Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Medical Ethics; Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College

Class Year


Professional Background

When I enrolled in medical school, I was a newly minted Duke English grad, immediately confronted with the reality that my new classmates really liked science. Fortunately, medicine is a big umbrella, and there are many possible career trajectories. 

I became a psychoanalyst who treats long-term outpatients and a psychiatrist who does consults on medical/surgical inpatients. The work includes teaching and administration, and I've also written or edited six psychiatric textbooks; all are case-based explanations of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. 

At Cornell's medical school, my titles include DeWitt Wallace Senior Scholar, professor of clinical psychiatry, and professor of medical ethics. I am also adjunct professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia's medical school, where I chair the ethics committee at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center.

How has being an English graduate from Duke University helped shape your professional success?

After I realized that I wouldn't/couldn't become an English professor, the major offered the opportunity to get academic credit for reading novels. While I wasn't looking, the experience shaped my passion for writing and rewriting, editing, looking for points of view (everywhere), and finding increasingly nuanced life in written stories. I try to live up to that in my own books. At least as important, my English classes, teachers, and classmates were a great fit, and the experience encouraged me to try to create a similarly rich environment for my own students.  

John Barnhill