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In Memoriam - Joseph Pursch

August 05, 2021

In Memoriam - Joseph Pursch

AsMA Headquarters Staff were saddened to hear of the death of CAPT Joseph Pursch, MC, USN(Ret.), M.D.

He graduated from the University of Indiana School of Medicine and was Board-certified in Neuropsychiatry. He began his military career in 1960 as a Navy Flight Surgeon aboard the USS Forrestal. From 1963-1966, he served a Psychiatric Residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital and was the personal physician of the then Secretary of the Navy, Paul Nitze. In 1966, he became Assistant Chief of Psychiatry, Naval Aerospace Medical Institute and Special Board of Flight Surgeons, and Chief of Psychiatry, U.S. Naval Hospital, Pensacola, FL, USA. In 1968, he transferred to the Outpatient Clinic, Naval Dispensary, Washington, DC, to be Chief of Neuropsychiatry and a medical member of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Drug Abuse Team.
   In 1970, Dr. Pursch became Chief of Psychiatry at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Naples, Italy, where he established the first U.S. Navy overseas alcohol and drug rehabilitation program. In 1973 he took the position of Director, Alcohol Rehabilitation Service, Naval Regional Medical Center, in Long Beach, CA, USA. He designed a physician training course for substance abuse and it was here he gained national prominence by treating high-ranking military and civilian members of the U.S. government such as Betty Ford and Billy Carter. He retired from the Navy in 1980, but continued to treat numerous public figures. As Program Manager for the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, he supervised the drug testing program for players and officials at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open Championships, and other Grand Slam tournaments until 1989. In 1980 he also became Corporate Medical Director at Comprehensive Care Corporation. Between 1987 and 1989 he was also a psychiatric consultant to South Coast Medical Center’s Chemical Dependency Service in Laguna Beach, CA. In 1989 he became Corporate Medical Director for Community Psychiatric Center Hospitals in Laguna Hills, CA, until 1991, and Medical Director of the Addiction Institute in Costa Mesa, CA, until 1993.
   Dr. Pursch’s honors included the Distinguished Service Medal from the President of the United States in 1980, the Airline Medical Directors Award, the William C. Porter Award from the Association of Military Surgeons, appointments to President’s Carter’s Commission on Alcoholism and President Reagan’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Drunk Driving, and the R. Brinkley Smithers Award. He was a member and Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.