June 12, 2009

Ophthalmology society lauds O’Day’s contributions

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Denis O’Day, M.D., was recently awarded the Lucien Howe Medal, one of Ophthalmology’s highest honors. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Ophthalmology society lauds O’Day’s contributions

Longtime Vanderbilt ophthalmologist Denis O'Day, M.D., was recently presented with one of Ophthalmology's highest honors — the Lucien Howe Medal.

O'Day, director of the Emphasis Program and professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Vanderbilt, was honored by the American Ophthalmological Society for his many contributions to the field.

A member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1972, O'Day specializes in the management of corneal and external disease, with particular expertise in diagnosing difficult and unusual types of ocular infections and fungal disease.

O'Day was responsible for developing the Tennessee Lions Eye Center at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in 1997 and served as chair of the department from 1992 to 2002.

The presentation of the medal came as a surprise to O'Day.

“It is humbling,” he said. “I had absolutely no idea at all that I was receiving this honor. I was stunned. I am still stunned. Those who have received the medal are an impressive group and to be recognized among them…it's amazing.”

Established in 1919, the Howe Medal was not awarded until 1922. The award denotes distinguished service to ophthalmology and has only 74 recipients, including O'Day.

“The Howe Medal is one of the premier honors that are bestowed in the field of Ophthalmology,” said Paul Sternberg, M.D., chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

“For Dr. O'Day, it is an acknowledgement of an incredible career of accomplishment in clinical care, research, education and patient care. We are proud of him and privileged that he is still an active member in our department.”

O'Day, a native of Melbourne, Australia, received his undergraduate degree from Xavier College in Melbourne and his medical degree from the University of Melbourne Medical School. 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.

At any given time, there are only 250 members of the honor society that was founded during the Civil War as the first specialty society in this country. O'Day, a member since 1989, joins two other VEI faculty — Sean Donahue, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology and James Elliott, M.D., professor of Ophthalmology Emeritus.

The AOS honored O'Day for his work with the Emphasis Program, an opportunity for first- and second-year medical students to gain specialized knowledge and experience by working in one of nine areas related to medicine; his commitment to the Visitation Clinic and Hospital in Haiti, which he helped build, and his dedication to American Board of Ophthalmology.

“While the medical facility in Haiti and the direct involvement in education of students at Vanderbilt will surely have lasting effects for years to come, perhaps even more so will be the time he spent as executive director of the American Board of Ophthalmology from 1996 to 2006,” said Douglas Anderson, M.D., chair of the awards committee.

“He is just a phenomenal person,” Anderson said. The things he did while serving as executive director of the ABO changed the history of medicine, but particularly ophthalmology. His impact on the profession will last for generations.”