Remembering Dr. Tuerk

Remembering Dr. Tuerk

The annual NCADD-Maryland Tuerk Conference on Addiction Treatment is named after Isadore Tuerk, a psychiatrist who served as Maryland's Mental Health Commissioner for eight years and was a prominent figure in the field of alcohol and drug addiction treatment. A native of Baltimore, Dr. Tuerk oversaw the state's mental hospital system from 1960 to 1968 before leaving public service, and continued practicing psychiatry and teaching at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins medical schools.

Dr. Tuerk grew up in the neighborhood around the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and first came into contact with the school as a child when he delivered clothes made by his tailor father. A 1924 graduate of Baltimore City College, Dr. Tuerk completed undergraduate studies at Hopkins and received his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1934. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II as a division psychiatrist in the European Theater, was awarded a bronze star and was discharged in 1946 as a lieutenant colonel.

As a public servant, he fought for more dollars for the state's mental hospitals and pioneered group therapy techniques for alcoholics. All were welcome to the Saturday morning sessions he launched at Spring Grove State Mental Hospital where he became a staff psychiatrist in 1939 and superintendent 10 years later. His son Jonathan recollected that Dr. Tuerk only once threw someone out of the sessions - a man who came in with a bottle of whiskey. "It was the only time he ever kicked somebody out of the group and years later he kept asking whether that was the right thing to do."

Dr. Tuerk was an honorary member of the Maryland Society on Alcoholism Treatment and was named its Man of the Year in 1957. Tuerk House, an alcoholic treatment center, formerly a University of Maryland drug and alcohol abuse treatment center, was named in his honor in 1970. In 1981 he received the Gold Key and Honor Award from the Medical Alumni Association and its Service Award in 1987. Dr. Tuerk retired in 1986 and died at the age of 81 in 1989.

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