December 8, 2021

Pioneer of substance abuse prevention and treatment Anderson Spickard Jr., MD, mourned

Vanderbilt’s Anderson Spickard Jr., MD, professor of Medicine Emeritus and director Emeritus, Center for Professional Health, died Dec. 8 He was 90.


by Kathy Whitney

Anderson Spickard Jr., MD
Anderson Spickard Jr., MD

Anderson Spickard Jr., MD, professor of Medicine Emeritus and Director Emeritus, Center for Professional Health, died Dec. 8 He was 90.

Dr. Spickard was beloved by the patients in his practice, was a leader in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) for decades, and was a national and international leader in the areas of substance abuse prevention, treatment and physician wellness.

“Dr. Spickard was one of the true giants of medicine. Wise, kind and caring, he was an inspiration to generations of students, residents and colleagues. We all learned such a great deal from him and treasured his friendship. As we mourn his passing, I want to express my deepest sympathy to his wife, Sue, and their family,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of VUSM.

“Andy was decades ahead in his thoughts about addiction as a disease and the ways to treat substance abuse, having pioneered advancements in recovery that have given so many a renewed chance at life. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy.”

Dr. Spickard linked his decision to become a physician to a family tragedy: In 1950 when he was an 18-year-old freshman at Vanderbilt University, his father was killed by a lightning strike on a Nashville golf course. During his junior year at Vanderbilt, on a walk across campus, in front of Furman Hall, the thought came to his mind, “I’ve got to be a doctor.”

He attended VUSM, graduating in 1957, and spent almost his entire career at Vanderbilt.

Dr. Spickard began his career as a resident in general internal medicine at Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins. He was appointed a clinical associate at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, and then returned to Vanderbilt in 1962 to complete his residency training as the first Hugh J. Morgan Resident in Medicine. He joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1963.

Dr. Spickard was the founding director of Ambulatory Services at Vanderbilt; the Moore County Primary Care Center in Lynchburg, Tennessee; Vanderbilt Occupational Health Service; the Vanderbilt Division of General Internal Medicine; and the Vanderbilt Institute for Treatment of Addiction-VITA.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, flanked by Norman Urmy, left, and Anderson Spickard Jr., M.D., at the ribbon cutting to open the Vanderbilt Institute for the Treatment of Alcoholism (VITA) on June 26, 1984. (file photo by Debbie Meredith).
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, flanked by Norman Urmy, left, and Anderson Spickard Jr., MD, cut the ribbon to open the Vanderbilt Institute for the Treatment of Alcoholism (VITA) on June 26, 1984. (file photo by Debbie Meredith)

The opening of VITA included a ribbon-cutting event featuring remarks by Johnny Cash, and a photo from that day shows a smiling Dr. Spickard with Cash and June Carter Cash.

Dr. Spickard was the national program director of the Robert Wood Johnson “Fighting Back: Community Initiatives to Reduce Demand for Illegal Drugs and Alcohol” and served in leadership roles for the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse.

He was the author of “The Craving Brain-Science, Spirituality and the Road to Recovery,” co-authored with Barbara Thompson and James Butler. He was also the author of “Dying for a Drink —What You and Your Family Should Know About Alcoholism” and “Stay With Me—Stories of a Black Bag Doctor,” published in 2011.

Dr. Spickard was active in the practice and teaching of internal medicine for over 45 years. Deeply committed to the mental and physical health of his colleagues, he founded the Center for Professional Health at Vanderbilt in 1999.

He and his team, including William Swiggart, MS, the late David Dodd, MD, and Ron Neufeld, BSW, LADAC, built and expanded the Center for Professional Health into an internationally recognized program, which has served physicians and other health care providers for more than 20 years and continues today. He started this program because a physician called him one night in desperate need of support.

“Andy was a bright star to all he encountered, especially those who were disenfranchised, wounded and needing another chance,” Swiggart said.

Dr. Spickard served as the chair of the Vanderbilt Physician Wellness Committee, organized to address the issues of physician/faculty well-being, and as an emeritus professor, he remained a member of this committee.

Recognized by his colleagues for his many contributions to the field of substance abuse, Dr. Spickard received the Special Recognition Award for Outstanding Leadership and Contributions from the Mid-Cumberland Council on Alcohol and Drugs (1989), the AMERSA John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Research and Medical Education in Substance Abuse (1996), and Vanderbilt’s Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor Award (1989).

“I had the honor of meeting with Dr. Spickard after receiving the W. Anderson Spickard, Jr. Award (for Extraordinary Performance of Clinical Service). During our meeting he impressed upon me his love of medicine and Vanderbilt,” said William Walsh, MD, professor of Pediatrics. “He lived a life of service and wanted to make sure that physicians learned from each patient.”

In 2003, Dr. Spickard was awarded the Chancellor’s Chair in Medicine for his contributions to research and addiction related to physician wellness. He was promoted to the rank of professor of Medicine Emeritus in 2008.

“Dr. Spickard was a remarkable role model in so many ways,” said Charlene Dewey, MD, MEd, MACP, current director of the Center for Professional Health and chair of the Faculty Wellness Committee. She assumed his role in 2008.

“Andy had the biggest heart ever, and never once hesitated to provide his support, lift up me and our team, or to provide valuable information to improve our center and our products to support physicians. We chatted and prayed often when he would visit from the emeritus office. His light will never be extinguished as he lives in all of those he touched. ”

Dr. Spickard served as a mentor to countless colleagues, residents and medical students, perhaps none more so than his eldest son, Anderson Spickard III, MD, who followed in his footsteps as a Vanderbilt internal medicine physician before leaving VUMC earlier this year to help found the new school of medicine planned by Belmont University.

Dr. Spickard is survived by his wife, Sue; children, Anderson Spickard III, MD, (Margaret), David Spickard (Alice), and Susan Spickard Gray (Ron); and 10 grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his grandson, Lucas.

Visitation will be held Sunday, Dec.12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. A memorial service celebrating Dr. Spickard’s life will be held Monday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, with additional visitation at 10 a.m. before the service.