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American Psychiatric Association honors East Tennessee physician

KNOXVILLE - In early May, the Area 5 Council of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) honored Dr. Clif Tennison with the William W. “Bill” Richards Rural Psychiatry Award. The award recognizes APA members who made exemplary contributions toward the treatment of patients and the practice of psychiatry in rural and/or remote geographic areas.

Tennison began his career at the Helen Ross McNabb Center in 1983. He aligned himself with the Center’s mission to “improve the lives of the people we serve.” Tennison was certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in April 1985. In September 2016, he retired from the Center as vice president and chief clinical officer, concluding a 33-year career as a psychiatrist, executive leader and advocate in community health.

Throughout Tennison’s career dedicated to community-based care, he developed innovative ways to increase access to care for children and adults with severe and persistent mental illness. For example, he provided psychiatric care to adults involved in the criminal justice system in Campbell, Blount and Knox counties. Overall, he supported the growth of the Center’s presence in rural counties, and the Center now serves individuals experiencing mental health, addiction and social challenges in 25 East Tennessee counties.

In addition to his practice at the Center, he served as a constant advocate for better health care and supportive services for East Tennesseans living with behavioral health disorders. Specifically, he helped expand child and adolescent services beyond metropolitan Knoxville and Knox County through public advocacy, governmental presentations and public health projects. He also pioneered telepsychiatry in the region in the late 80s and early 90s through UT Medical Center to deliver care to those in need.

For the next generation, he laid the foundation for the future by supporting psychiatry residency and fellowship training programs that vigorously encourage service to rural and underserved populations.

Tennison dedicated his career to helping achieve the best health outcomes for individuals who have the greatest needs and the fewest resources, which led him to serve individuals in jails, hospitals, homeless shelters and beyond.

“It was more of a calling than a job,” Tennison said of his work.

He innovated methods to reach underserved populations. His work, like that of William W. “Bill” Richards, has made lasting impacts on individuals’ lives and on the behavioral health care field.

Tennison is a distinguished life fellow of the APA, and he has been a member of the organization since 1980. During this time, he has served the APA in different capacities. One notable role was serving as a member of the APA Special Presidential Task Force on Psychosocial Rehabilitation from 1998-1999. He also served as an invited reviewer for the APA’s public/community psychiatry journal. In addition to his involvement at the national level, he has served the Tennessee APA district branch, including as president from 1990-1992.

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,800 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information please visit

The Helen Ross McNabb Center is a premier not-for-profit provider of behavioral health services in East Tennessee. Since 1948, the Center has provided quality and compassionate care to children, adults and families experiencing mental illness, addiction and social challenges. As the Center celebrates nearly 70 years of providing services to communities in East Tennessee, its mission remains clear and simple; “Improving the lives of the people we serve.” For more information, visit or call 865‐637‐9711.

Published May 20, 2018

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