Kenneth M. Heilman, M.D.
The James E. Rooks Jr. Distinguished Professor of Neurology & Health Psychology
Dr. Heilman is perhaps the world’s best known behavioral neurologist, and has dedicated much of his career to the study of Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders.
Dr. Kenneth M. Heilman received his M.D. degree from the University of Virginia in 1963 and subsequently spent two years training in Internal Medicine at Cornell University Medical Center (Bellevue). During the Vietnam War he joined the Air Force and was Chief of Medicine at NATO Hospital, Izmir, Turkey. When he was discharged from the service, he took a Neurology residency and fellowship at the Harvard Neurological Unit (Boston City) with Dr. Derek Denny-Brown and then with Dr. Norman Geschwind.
After completing his residency and fellowship, he jointed the faculty at the University of Florida in 1970, as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1973 and Professor in 1975. He received an endowed chair in 1990 making him the first James E Rooks, Jr. Professor of Neurology. In 1998, he was in the first group of the faculty to be awarded the title of Distinguished Professor. He is also a Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology. Dr. Heilman is an active clinician who is Director of the Memory and Cognitive Disorder Clinic and University of Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Center. In 1977, Dr. Heilman joined the VA faculty, in a part time status, first as a Staff Neurologist and since 1996 as Chief.
His primary clinical interests are in attentional, emotional, memory and cognitive disorders. His expertise as a clinician has been recognized by being listed in every edition of the Best Doctors in America as well as other similar publications. Dr. Heilman is also an educator. In addition to teaching medical and psychology students, he is active in resident education and been director of a post-doctoral program that has trained more than 50 post doctoral fellows. The majority of these fellows now hold academic positions in this and other universities. Several of Dr. Heilman’s former fellows are now leaders in academic neurology, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience..
Dr. Heilman has had and continues to have an active research program. His research has been almost continuously funded by federal agencies (e.g., VA Merit Review and/or National Institutes of Health) for the last 30 years. Currently, he and his coworkers receive more than one million dollars a year in research funding. He is the author or co-author 9 texts, and has a total of more than 400 chapters and articles in peer reviewed journals.
Some of the research advances he and his coworkers reported include: 1) The demonstration that a cortical (frontal-parietal)-limbic (cingulate)-reticular (thalamic and mesencephalic) network mediates attention. 2) That the right hemisphere is dominant for mediating attention and arousal. 3) That unilateral neglect, of one side of space, can also be caused by an action-intentional as well as attentional deficits. 4) That the right hemisphere is also dominant for “when” action-intentional computations including, when to initiate an act, when not to act and when to stop actions. 5) That certain patients with neglect can be helped when treated with dopamine agonists. 6) Prior to three decades ago it was thought that the left hemisphere was dominant for speech and language. Dr. Heilman and his coworkers demonstrated that it was the right hemisphere that was important for emotional communication including the understanding and expression of emotional prosody and faces. 7) In regard to skilled movements or praxis, Dr Heilman and his coworkers have demonstrated that skilled movement, such as using a pair of scissors, is mediated by a left hemisphere modular network where the parietal lobe contains the memories of the spatial trajectories needed to perform skilled movements and the frontal lobe (premotor cortex) performs the computations that transfer this knowledge to a motor code. 8) That the left hemisphere is also dominant for storing mechanical knowledge and that a loss of this knowledge leads to a deficit called conceptual apraxia. 9) That the left hemisphere’s motor systems help control deftness (precise) movements of both hands.
In recognition of his research contributions Dr. Heilman was in the first group of individuals to receive the University of Florida Research Foundation Professorships. He also received the Clinical Research Award from the University of Florida College of Medicine. He is a past President of the International Neuropsychology Society and the Society for Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology. This latter organization also gave him the Outstanding Achievement Award for his research and educational contributions to Neurology.