In late 1995, Ralph A. O’Connell, M.D., a member of the faculty since 1980, was serving on the search committee appointed by the newly appointed president of New York Medical College, Harry C. Barrett, D.Min., M.P.H., whose task was to recruit a new chief academic officer who would advance the institution to new heights of educational greatness. After considering more than 60 candidates, the search committee determined that the best person for the job was Dr. O’Connell himself, and the Board of Trustees heartily agreed. His tenure as provost and dean of the School of Medicine began on January 1, 1996.
The job of provost gave Dr. O’Connell broad responsibility for the academic affairs of the university, including the coordination of the three schools and administrative and student services. Facing him on his first day on the job were the need to recruit key department chairmen and a dean of one of the graduate schools, completion of a pending self-study report due at the offices of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), and a host of other tasks and challenges that would have undone a lesser man.
From 1974 until he was appointed provost and dean, Dr. O’Connell served as vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and clinical director of psychiatry at Saint Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center in New York City. Prior to his association with New York Medical College, he was assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College, from 1967 to 1980.
A prolific writer and frequent speaker at national and international meetings, Dr. O’Connell has published extensively in scientific journals—including a paper that appeared in the eminent scholarly journal The Lancet when he was a surgical intern—and has written many book chapters. His research includes studies on the psychiatric complications of cardiac surgery, the influence of biological and psychological social factors in the long-term outcome of manic depressive order, and the use of single photon emission computed tomography brain imaging in psychiatric disorders. Dr. O’Connell is editor emeritus of Comprehensive Psychiatry, the official journal of the American Psychopathological Association.
A member of the Associated Medical Schools of New York since 1996, he served as president from 2003 to 2005. He is also a past president of the New York Psychiatric Society. He has been a member of the American Medical Association since 1969, and is a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a fellow and trustee emeritus of the New York Academy of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Psychopathological Association and a member of the American College of Psychiatrists.
Dr. O’Connell is active in numerous organizations, including The Rockefeller University, where he has been a member of the Council since 1991, and Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New York, for which he served as trustee from 1991 to 1997 and is currently vice chair of the Board of Trustees. He was president of the prestigious University Club of New York from 1993 to 1995, one of the few physicians to lead the 145-year-old organization, and his portrait graces its halls. He was appointed chair of the Task Force on Medical Education for the Catholic Health Care Network in 1996, and the following year was elected a director of The Catholic Communal Fund.
Dr. O’Connell has received many honors including the Academy Plaque of the New York Academy of Medicine, faculty initiation to the national honor medical society, Alpha Omega Alpha, and the Distinguished Trustee Award from the United Hospital Fund.
Dr. O’Connell received his B.S. degree from the College of the Holy Cross and his M.D. degree from Cornell University Medical College. During his studies at Cornell, he received a fellowship at Oxford University Medical College. He did his residency in psychiatry at Saint Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center and was chief resident. He also completed a surgical internship and a fellowship in psychopharmacology research there. During the Vietnam War he served in the U.S. Army as chief of neuropsychiatry at Ireland Army Hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Dr. O’Connell is married to Jane Burke O’Connell, president of the Altman Foundation. They reside in New York City and have three children and one granddaughter.