Skip to main content

O’Neill honored with American Pediatric Surgical Association Humanitarian Award

Jun. 28, 2021, 1:47 PM


The American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) has recognized James O’Neill, MD, professor of Surgery, emeritus, and former chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, with the 2021 Humanitarian Award.

James A. O’Neill Jr., MD

The award recognizes O’Neill’s many contributions during a career dedicated to the provision of surgical care to underserved children.

“The APSA Humanitarian Award is a well-deserved recognition of Dr. O’Neill’s decades of work in establishing and sustaining surgical education and improving surgical care in underserved regions of the world,” said Seth Karp, MD, H. William Scott Jr. Professor and chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences. “He has long been a shining example to surgical faculty, residents and students here at the Medical Center, and his humanitarian efforts have had enduring ripple effects across continents.”

O’Neill joined VUMC in 1971, serving as chair of Pediatric Surgery until 1981, when he left to become surgeon-in-chief at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the C.E. Koop Professor of Pediatric Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He returned to Vanderbilt in 1995, serving as chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences and surgeon-in-chief at VUMC and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt through 2002. He was honored with the title of professor emeritus in 2002.

O’Neill’s initial experiences with international medical service were in Guatemala, where he provided pediatric surgical care, and in China with Project Hope, where he helped establish a children’s hospital in Shanghai. After stepping down as chair of the Section of Surgical Services, O’Neill dedicated more time to the development of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance and to international humanitarian medical work.

He became active in the American College of Surgeon’s Operation Giving Back Program and was a key player in both the clinical arena as a pediatric surgeon and in the education of surgical residents at two hospitals in Kenya — the Naivasha District Hospital and AIC Kijabe Hospital. For nearly two decades, O’Neill and his wife, Susan, have travelled annually to Kenya to provide humanitarian and medical support.

Ken Muma, MD, pediatric surgeon and executive director at AIC Kijabe Hospital, spoke as part of the recognition of O’Neill’s contributions.

“I am one of the former surgical fellows and now, a pediatric surgeon who was taught by him, both in the wards and in the operating rooms,” Muma said. “I have learned many things from him, but above all, is his humility and love for people. Their passion for my people, for the Kenyan child, for me and for my family is intrinsic and immense. They have taught me that you can change the world, with little actions, even from 13,000 kilometers away. I am proud that Jim has mentored me and so many in Africa.”

The contributions of O’Neill and fellow award recipient, Michael Curci, MD, FACS, were recognized during a June meeting of the APSA. The APSA is the nation’s largest professional organization dedicated to the pediatric surgical specialty.

Recent Stories from VUMC News and Communications Publications

Vanderbilt Medicine
VUMC Voice