Skip to Main Content

In Memoriam: William Sledge, MD

January 02, 2023

The obituary below was prepared by the family of William Sledge, MD, and John Krystal, MD.

William Sledge, MD, died on December 20, at the age of 77. At the time of his death, Dr. Sledge was the George D. and Esther S. Gross Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry. He had served in numerous roles within the department, including interim department chair (2007–2009).

Dr. Sledge emerged as a transformative educational leader for the Department of Psychiatry. He led the Yale Psychiatry Residency Program, initially as director of graduate education (1980–1986) and then as associate chair for education (1990–1996). He was an innovative educator. His article on the track system that enabled Yale psychiatry residents to pursue academic interests during residency training contributed to the establishment of research tracks in many residency training programs.

He also was an impactful clinical leader. Dr. Sledge led the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) Outpatient Division (1987–1989), and served as CMHC clinical director (1989–1996) and acting director (1994). During this period, he studied peer counseling and alternatives to inpatient hospitalization for individuals with chronic mental illness. He characterized roles that intensive outpatient treatment programs and supervised transitional units might play in preventing hospitalization.

Most remember him for his over 20-year service as medical director of Yale New Haven Hospital Psychiatry (1996–2018). During this period, he played an important role in the consolidation of Yale New Haven Hospital Psychiatry and the Yale Psychiatric Institute. He then served as medical director of the new Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital. In this capacity, he oversaw the integration of psychiatry at the Hospital of Saint Raphael, the initiation of the Interventional Psychiatry Program, and the rebranding and expansion of Psychological Medicine Services. He drew national attention for the pioneering Behavioral Intervention Team, an initiative that embeds mental health clinicians on inpatient medical and surgical teams. This program reduced the need for physical restraints and sitters to observe patients, and it shortened inpatient hospitalizations for medical and surgical patients.

Upon becoming chair, Dr. Krystal asked Dr. Sledge to assume the role of deputy chair for clinical affairs for the Department of Psychiatry (2009–2018). In this role, he championed clinical innovation throughout the department. Following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, he along with Drs. Steven Southwick and Steven Marans mobilized over 100 volunteers to provide direct support and train other providers to sustain psychological support to the community.

Dr. Sledge had many additional interests. He was a graduate (1986) and active member of the Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute. He also was an important contributor in the field of aerospace psychiatry, leading to a listing in Who’s Who in Aviation and Aerospace. He was active in professional organizations including the American Association of Directors of Residency Training, the Group to Advance Psychiatry, and the American College of Psychiatry. For his work, Dr. Sledge was recognized with many honors including the Stephen Fleck Award, our department’s award given to individuals who represent the highest values of academic psychiatry.

William Sledge grew up in Greensboro, Alabama, and played varsity football at Washington and Lee University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He then attended medical school at Baylor College of Medicine, where he was influenced by the surgeon Michael DeBakey and the psychiatrist Hilda Bruch. He arrived at Yale for psychiatry residency in 1972, after completing an internship at the University of Pennsylvania. He then spent two years at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the University of Texas, San Antonio. Dr. Sledge returned to Yale in 1977 to join the faculty.

Remarkably, he found time to serve as head of Calhoun College (now Grace Hopper College) from 1995 to 2005, and his wife Betsy, who is a long-term writing tutor in Silliman College, served as associate head. They distinguished themselves as effective leaders of college life, bringing an array of outside luminaries to the college to enrich the lives of the students. They supported numerous students through the challenges of college life. Dr. Sledge also served as chair of the Council of Masters (2000–2003), the group made up of the heads of the undergraduate colleges. He was an important friend and advisor to Yale President Richard Levin, who tapped him for other important university advisory roles. Dr. Sledge’s role at the college was fortuitous for the department, as we held department residency graduations there for nearly a decade.

Even more remarkably, Dr. Sledge nurtured a breadth of passions outside of work. He was a pilot and an avid scuba diver. He had many stories of exploring wrecked ships on the East Coast and swimming with sea lions in Antarctica. He and Betsy were accomplished dancers. They brought life to every party they attended, often "kicking off" the dancing at the psychiatry department’s holiday party.

We are deeply grateful for all that William brought to the department. He was brilliant, open-minded, visionary, courageous, and he possessed a lively sense of humor. He was also fiercely protective of his values, his patients, his mentees, and his colleagues. His mentees describe him as having an indelible impact on their lives and careers.

In addition to his wife Betsy, he is survived by three daughters, Ann, Margaret, and Katherine, and six grandchildren. He was extremely proud of his family, and he frequently discussed his daughters and grandchildren. The funeral will be private, and a celebration of life will be announced in the coming months.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on January 03, 2023