Home / Articles / Features / Health & Fitness / A career in caring
Print this Article
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 06:51 am

A career in caring

Respected Springfield psychiatrist put his mark on medical community

Untitled Document

The Frank J. Menolascino Award for Excellence, given yearly by the National Association for the Dually Diagnosed, was created to honor individuals “whose efforts have resulted in an improved quality of life for a significant number of persons with mental retardation and mental illness.”
In October, the national organization presented the prestigious award to Dr. Earl Loschen, retired chairman of psychiatry at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Lark Kirchner, a licensed clinical social worker, is co-owner of Prairie Psychotherapy Associates with Marilyn Reinhardt, Loschen’s wife. Kirchner worked with the doctor for many years. “I had the good fortune of becoming director of the DD [developmental disability] division Dr. Loschen started at SIU,” she says. (She held that post from 1995 until 2003). “We now have a tremendous number of physicians trained in working with our population. I attribute many of the changes in the field to his leadership.”
Told of Loschen’s Menolascino Award, Kirschner says. “That’s the crème de la crème of awards.”
For Loschen, the honor is especially poignant. Menolascino, now dead, was a mentor of his. “He was known internationally for his work with the developmentally disabled,” Loschen says. “Working with him was an eye-opening experience. That six-month rotation was one of the most productive times in my life in terms of my education.”
A high regard for education is what gave Earl Loschen a boost in life. “My father did not get the kind of education he wanted as a child,” the doctor explains. “He left school to work on the family farm. Education was something he valued a great deal, so I got lots of attention and awards for doing well in school.”
The oldest of four children born to Herman and Agnes Loschen, young Earl did do his share of farm work, but it didn’t get in the way of his education. He was valedictorian of his graduating class and entered college straight out of high school. He had an affinity for learning, and it did not take him long to decide that he wanted to be a doctor. “The Loschens were a large extended family,” he says, “so I had the opportunity to relate to cousins, aunts, and uncles. That’s always been an important factor in my life. I was always interested in working with people.”
Because he did well academically in high school, Loschen was able to get scholarships to pay his way through college. “I did borrow some money,” he says, “and I would do part-time jobs, virtually everything, from working at a seed-corn plant to odd jobs around town — putting up storm windows, raking yards. . . . ”
Midland Lutheran College, in Fremont, Neb., was a great experience for the young Loschen. He excelled there just as he had in high school. “I was extraordinarily fortunate,” he says. “In my sophomore year, my biology teacher, Erla Steuerwald, had a Ph.D. in biology. She tailored my courses to prepare me for medical school. It was nice to have someone be so supportive.”
Loschen never did waver from his decision to pursue medicine. Again he received scholarships, this time toward his medical education at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. “Medical school is different [from college],” Loschen says. “To become a physician, you have to learn everything about the human body, but you also need to develop an ability to relate to patients — to be there to be of assistance to them but also be objective. You can get so overinvolved in the pain of your patients that you lose yourself. I’ve observed any number of physicians who’ve done that.”
As Loschen neared the end of his schooling, it was time to narrow his focus and choose a field to pursue in the increasingly specialized area of medicine. Loschen had taken a lot of elective courses in pediatrics, and for a time that was at the top of his list of choices — but a rotation in pediatric oncology discouraged him: “It was just too traumatic. It tore me up to work with dying kids.”
Ultimately Loschen chose psychiatry, a decision he never regretted. It was during his residency at the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute that he was taught by Menolascino. “At the time, the attitude was that people with developmental disabilities couldn’t have mental illnesses — or, if they did, you couldn’t treat them,” Loschen recalls. “Dr. M. wrote one of the first textbooks on mental retardation and mental illness written in the United States. I had exciting opportunities to watch him and work with him. With that, I came to realize persons with DD did have mental illnesses, and they were very treatable.”
Loschen met another person at the institute who would greatly affect his life: his future wife, Marilyn. She had just finished her graduate program as a psychiatric social worker and was hired on the unit where Loschen was the attending physician. “Needless to say, we got along very well,” he says. They were married a year later. “[Marilyn] was originally from St. Louis, and she wasn’t particularly fond of Nebraska,” Loschen says. “I had been in Omaha more than eight years, and I wasn’t excited about staying, so we started looking for job opportunities.”
They ended up in Springfield — Reinhardt at Lincoln Land Community College, Loschen at the newly opened SIU School of Medicine. “I thought I was interviewing for outpatient psychiatrist, but I ended up as the director of the residency program,” he says. “There wasn’t a program in place, so it was my job to develop one.”
Loschen fondly remembers the early days of that school: “We were all trying to put together a psych department that worked. [There was] a lot of congeniality, working together. That made it a fun time. “I ended up being residency director at SIU about 15 years,” he says. “I loved that. The department at that point was a neat experience, because people had been brought in from all over the U.S. The chairman was Dr. A.S. Norris. He had come from Iowa. His orientation to psychiatry was very appealing.”
During those 15 years, Loschen took over the role of assistant chairman of the department, becoming involved in the administrative end of things. Finally he was named the chairman in 1992, and his work became even more complex. He had ended his term as residency director but was working in rural psychiatry, including the provision of services for Macoupin County. He was president of the Board of Rural Associations of Mental Health and did some research and publishing as well. “All that time I also was dealing with developmental disabilities,” Loschen says. “I’ve essentially dealt with DD all my professional career.”
For a while he was also the director of the problem-based-learning curriculum for SIU. That’s when he got his master’s degree in educational psychiatry. “During that time I established a division of DD in the Department of Psychiatry,” Loschen says. “To the best of my knowledge, it was the first in the country.”
Clearly Loschen has always pushed himself academically and professionally, and one might assume that career sits at the top of his list of priorities but that spot is reserved for family: wife Marilyn and daughters Rebecca and Elizabeth.
Marilyn Reinhardt’s assessment of Loschen’s career matches her husband’s: “He’s an extraordinary person. This isn’t an eight-hour job for him, and it never has been. Most of the psychiatrists taught in Illinois have been taught by Earl, so for the first time in Illinois we have people who know how to treat intellectual deficits. Thirty years ago, parents were on their own. It was abysmal.”
And how has his career affected their home life? “It wasn’t always easy,” she says. “Some things we insisted on — there were things he couldn’t miss. He didn’t get to as many dance recitals as we would have liked, but he got to all the important things: holidays, religious events, graduations. . . . Anything I needed him for, he was always here for us.”
Rebecca Loschen, now 30, is a licensed clinical social worker who conducts in-home counseling for children in foster care, and she thinks highly of her father: “I’m very proud of him. He’s been working so hard for so long, I’m proud that he’s been recognized. He really puts his heart into everything he does.”
Elizabeth Loschen, 24, is autistic and lives at home with her parents. As a child, she was the first person recognized as having autism to attend public school in District 186. “Special education has been a godsend for people with developmental disabilities,” her father says. “I’d been involved in DD for many years before my daughter was born,” Loschen says. “I think her parents’ being mental health professionals has been a great help to her, because we’ve been able to run interference and get her assistance.”
Loschen left his position at SIU in 2002, but he’s retired only technically, remaining involved in many community projects. He says, “I’ve served on a couple major task forces for the Illinois Department of Human Services — one on autism, another on the Lincoln Developmental Center. I’ve been on the board of SPARC [the Springfield Arc]. I’ve also been on the board of the Arc of Illinois — been treasurer of that for two years; now I’m vice president. I spend time at the Springfield Mental Health Center.”
Tucked away among his postretirement accomplishments are a couple of notable ones: “Since 1986 I’ve done surveys for Medicare — for the federal government — of freestanding psychiatric hospitals all over the country,” Loschen says. “I’ve surveyed hospitals in every state, [Washington] D.C., and Puerto Rico. “The other thing I did, starting in 2000, I worked as a co-editor for a diagnostic manual for persons with mental illnesses. It was a seven-year project, editing that work — two books, just published in June. That actually took quite a bit of my time.”
So what drives him to work so hard? “That’s the way I was brought up,” he says. “My father was very involved in layman’s work in the church, and I had him as a role model. You were expected to do things to help improve the general well-being of people. “You’re supposed to make the world a better place to live. In some small way, I think, I’ve been able to do that — especially in my work with the developmentally disabled.”
Loschen will get no argument on that point.
Larry Crossett of Lincoln is a frequent contributor.
Log in to use your Facebook account with

Login With Facebook Account

Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes


  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed