For much of his career, Max Fink, M.D., has been viewed as a pre-eminent researcher and advocate for electroconvulsive therapy. But older physicians, he said, identify him with electroencephalography, psychopharmacology and research on substance abuse.
Fink's parents met at medical school in Vienna, Austria, where he was born in 1923. They emigrated to New York in 1924. Fink received his M.D. degree from the New York University College of Medicine in 1945 and interned for nine months before becoming a medical officer in the U.S. Army. "I was in the Army for about a year when they sent me to the School of Military Neuropsychiatry at Fort Sam Houston, Texas," he told Psychiatric Times. He spent four months there and when finished, "I was a qualified psychiatrist and neurologist, according to the Army."
Following his Army discharge, Fink took his residency training at Montefiore Medical Center, Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, Hillside Hospital (now a division of Long Island Jewish Medical Center) and Mt. Sinai Hospital. He became board certified in neurology in 1952 and in psychiatry two years later. He also received a certificate in psychoanalysis from the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry in 1953. With credentials in hand, he opened a private practice in neurology and psychiatry in 1953 in Great Neck, N.Y., and kept it open until 1958 when he became a "full-time academic."
Early on, Fink was intrigued with electroencephalography. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis gave him a fellowship in 1953 that enabled him to work at Mt. Sinai Hospital learning EEG. He developed a methodology for computer analysis of EEGs, wrote many papers on the effects of psychotropic drugs on the EEG and organized conferences on that subject.
From 1959 to 1985, he conducted extensive research into quantitative pharmaco-EEG (QEEG). The first studies were done at Hillside Hospital, then from 1962 to 1966 at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was research professor in psychiatry. The studies continued, with extensive support from the National Institute of Mental Health, when he joined the faculties at New York Medical College and then the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook.
Fink's interest in pharmacology coincided with the arrival of major psychotropic medications in the mid-1950s. He conducted a random assignment study of chlorpromazine (Thorazine), for example, in patients referred for insulin coma. Published in JAMA in 1958, that study showed chlorpromazine to be as effective as and safer than insulin coma, and it strongly influenced the end of the active use of insulin coma (Fink et al., 1958). In 1960, Fink became a member of NIMH's Clinical Committee that established the Early Clinical Drug Evaluation Units (ECDEU) under the leadership of Jonathan O. Cole, M.D., now senior consultant in psychopharmacology at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.