Richard C. Christensen, M.D., M.A., a professor of psychiatry in the University of Florida College of Medicine, died unexpectedly on Nov. 26 in Zambia while on a Habitat for Humanity build. He was out for a morning run when he was struck and killed by a driver. Christensen made it his life’s work to provide psychiatric services to underserved populations through academic-public sector liaisons. He served as the director of Behavioral Health Services at the Sulzbacher Center in Jacksonville, where he oversaw the clinical services in two psychiatry clinics, participating in psychiatric street outreach work and teaching medical students and resident physicians. “We are hit hard by the sudden loss of our beloved colleague, who exemplified service and care for his fellow human beings in all walks of life, and with a focus and passion for the mental health care needs of the homeless,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “He was a wonderful teacher, researcher, clinician and human being, and he will be greatly missed by so many, especially his patients.”
Christensen’s past clinical commitments included serving as medical director for a federally funded initiative targeting chronically homeless persons suffering the effects of co-occurring disorders and developing an integrated psychiatry-primary care initiative based at UF Health. He received UF’s highest teaching honor, The Hippocratic Award, and was named an Exemplary Teacher in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He was selected as the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for the Ripple Effect: Northeast Florida Mental Health Awards, presented by Mental Health America of Northeast Florida, for 2015. Christensen published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and reviews on topics related to community psychiatry, medical ethics, access to health care for the poor and under-served with a special focus upon the population of homeless persons who are mentally ill. One of his most recent articles, “Caring for the Invisible and the Forgotten,” speaks volumes about the kind of person he was. It can be read here: http://bit.ly/1XCBuQD.
“Dr. Christensen was a beloved teacher, colleague, and highly respected national community psychiatry expert who inspired the best in all he touched through his life and work. He has educated generations of medical students and psychiatry residents over the course of his career. We grieve his loss along with his family, his patients and the community he served, and know he would want to be remembered best by carrying on his passion of caring for mentally ill persons experiencing homelessness,” said Regina Bussing, M.D., interim chair of the department of psychiatry at the UF College of Medicine.
Christensen obtained an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in philosophy with an emphasis on medical ethics from Georgetown University and an M.D. from Wright State University School of Medicine, where he was elected into the AOA Honor Society.
He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and his son, Chris.