Paul R. McHugh was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Medical School with further training at the Peter Bent Brigham (now Brigham and Women's) Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, and in the Division of Neuropsychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. After his training, he became a professor of psychiatry at Cornell University School of Medicine; Clinical Director and Director of Residency Education at the New York Hospital Westchester Division; Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Oregon Health Sciences Center. He was Henry Phipps Professor and Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1975-2001. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine named him University Distinguished Service Professor in 1998.
Dr. McHugh was elected to the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences in 1992. In 2001, he was appointed by President Bush to the President's Council on Bioethics and in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. Above and beyond his professional publications, he has written articles for the public on psychiatry published in The American Scholar, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, The Chronicles of Higher Education, and The Baltimore Sun.
His career has three interrelated themes. First: To create a model department of academic psychiatry by rendering explicit the conceptual structure of psychiatry and by demonstrating what this structure implies for patient care, education and research. Second: Teach how the brain-mind problem is imbedded in these concepts and how it affects the thought and actions of psychiatrists. Third: Investigate the “motivated” behaviors, such as hunger, thirst, sex, and sleep that are open in this era to multiple levels of analysis from molecular biology to social science.