August 26, 2010

New chair celebrates O’Day’s legacy of accomplishments

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Denis O’Day, M.D., shares a moment with his wife, Ann, at a reception celebrating the establishment of a chair in his name. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

New chair celebrates O’Day’s legacy of accomplishments

Longtime Vanderbilt ophthalmologist Denis O'Day was recently celebrated with one of the greatest honors an organization can bestow — the establishment of the Denis M. O'Day, M.B.B.S., Chair in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

The newly founded chair was created to honor the considerable contributions O'Day has made in the field of ophthalmology at Vanderbilt and worldwide.

In 2009 O'Day, director of the Emphasis Program and professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, received the most prestigious award in his field — the Lucien Howe Medal. His influence, leadership and accomplishments since joining the Vanderbilt faculty nearly four decades ago have been unparalleled, said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“His legacy is nothing short of remarkable. This great recognition means that for decades to come — for the continued future of this University — faculty, staff, students, patients and trainees will hear the name Denis O'Day. In hearing that name they will understand what a foundational difference he has made to this great institution,” Balser said.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, O'Day has been a member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1972. He specializes in the management of corneal and external eye disease, with a particular expertise in diagnosing difficult and unusual types of ocular infections and fungal disease. During his tenure, he was responsible for developing the Tennessee Lions Eye Center at Vanderbilt in 1997 and served as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences from 1992-2002.

He also assumed national leadership positions within scientific organizations that impacted specific educational requirements in ophthalmology, said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

Denis O’Day, M.D., right, laughs with Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., left, and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., during a reception honoring O’Day. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Denis O’Day, M.D., right, laughs with Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., left, and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., during a reception honoring O’Day. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

From 1996-2006, O'Day served as the director of the American Board of Ophthalmology. Sternberg said O'Day led the profession through a very challenging and often controversial process of establishing recertification procedures for ophthalmologists.

“During this period there was considerable discord within our profession, many of whom did not see the need for recertification,” said Sternberg.

“However, Denis was resolute, feeling that our profession had a responsibility to the well-being of the public to assure excellence and quality of care. He became the standard by which we all measured ourselves.”

O'Day is humbled by the recognition, but quickly noted that the naming opportunity is “all about the institution and the future of ophthalmology.”

“This is really a testament to Vanderbilt's commitment to education, science and the next generation of physicians,” said O'Day. “It is the next step for the institution in its continuing search for excellence. This chair is part of the Vanderbilt mission to teach not only its students at all educational levels — practicing physicians and other health care providers — but also the community in its quest to provide better health and a better health system.”

O'Day was educated at Xavier College in Melbourne and received his medical degree from the University of Melbourne Medical School. He is a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He joined Vanderbilt as an assistant professor after completing his residency in internal medicine in Melbourne, an ophthalmology residency at the University of California, San Francisco and a fellowship in corneal and external disease at Moorefield's Eye Hospital in London, England.

In his current work with the innovative Emphasis Program at Vanderbilt, he provides first- and second-year medical students an opportunity to work with a faculty member on a project of their choosing in one of eight areas related to medicine.

“Denis believes strongly that each student's education is enriched by direct, mentored participation in independent projects that allows them to follow their own passions,” Balser said. “He devoted countless hours to ensuring the success of the program.”

The veteran ophthalmologist's commitment to providing vision services to the international community is evident — he helped build the Visitation Clinic and Hospital in Haiti and currently serves as the vice chair of the Board of Directors for the Visitation Hospital Foundation.

“Dr. O'Day truly is a man for all seasons: wonderful doctor, accomplished scientist, a gifted teacher, trusted colleague, international leader,” said Sternberg. “A chair in his name is a deserved recognition of his contributions, but will set a high and appropriate standard for the faculty member named to hold this chair.”