May 28, 2004

Ellis Island Award honors Abumrad for contributions

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Naji Abumrad, M.D.

Ellis Island Award honors Abumrad for contributions

Naji Abumrad, M.D., chairman of the department of Surgery, was recently awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, recognizing outstanding contributions to his ethnic group and to American society. Abumrad accepted the award during a ceremony on Ellis Island in New York.

Abumrad said he was “shocked but elated” to discover he was one of 130 people to receive the honor, out of 3,500 nominees.

After receiving his medical education in Lebanon, Abumrad immigrated to the United States in 1972, and continued his training. He decided to become an academic surgeon in 1979, and came to Vanderbilt “to learn the basics of research and endocrinology.”

At Vanderbilt, Abumrad received his first independent funding and progressed through the ranks to become professor of Surgery, Medicine and Molecular Physiology. He was also named the Paul W. Sanger Professor of Experimental Surgery.

After spending 10 years in New York, Abumrad returned to Vanderbilt in 2002, at which time he was appointed director of Surgical Services at the Tennessee Valley Health System. In February, he assumed the role of chairman of the Department of General Surgery.

“I was not trained at Vanderbilt, but I have ‘adopted’ Vanderbilt as my alma mater,” Abumrad said. “I loved being here, and that is the reason I returned.”

In addition to his academic endeavors, Abumrad helped found a hospital design company, as well as a company that develops nutritional supplements for AIDS and cancer patients.

“Dr. Abumrad was an outstanding choice to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.  He has mentored literally dozens of young physicians and scientists across this country,” said Dan Beauchamp, M.D., John C. Foshee Distinguished Professor of Surgery and chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences. “He continues to work to develop and promote the careers of both younger and older faculty members here at Vanderbilt, and we are indeed fortunate to have him in a leadership position in Surgery.  I can think of no other individual more deserving of this award.”

 Abumrad said his advice to young people and other immigrants is “work hard, persevere, be honest and do not waiver, and you will succeed.”

The Ellis Island Medal of Honor was created in 1986 by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations to honor the contributions that different ancestral groups have made to the country.

Over the years, more than 1,300 people have received the award — typically presidents, Nobel Prize winners, leaders of industry, and gifted artists, performers and athletes. Each award winner is given a specially crafted Ellis Island Medal of Honor.