Ralph G. Dacey Jr.’s genealogical history with Ireland reaches back generations, and his efforts as a bridge-builder between the Emerald Isle’s neurosurgeons and those at Washington University span more than a decade.
Together, those relationships have forged a bond between Dacey and the country’s top medical establishment that has led to the neurosurgeon being awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).
The honorary fellowship is considered the college’s most prestigious honor — one previously bestowed upon Nelson Mandela, William and Charles Mayo, Louis Pasteur, and Harvey Cushing, the father of modern neurosurgery, among other luminaries.
“It is a wonderful honor,” says Dacey, MD, the Henry G. and Edith R. Schwartz Professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Washington University and neurosurgeon-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “Being grouped with such amazing contributors to society and medicine is very humbling. Harvey Cushing, in particular, is someone whose incredible work defined my field.”
The Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland honored Dacey — accompanied by his wife, Corinne; son, Ralph Dacey III; and colleagues from his department — Feb. 9 in Dublin.
Dacey is the first neurosurgeon since 1918 — the year Cushing was awarded — to receive the honor, according to the RCSI.
Based in Dublin, the RCSI was granted a charter in 1784 to train surgeons. It is now the largest medical school in Ireland and is a leading international institution in health care, medicine and research.
In comments before Dacey was awarded the fellowship, RCSI Council Member Ken Mealy touted Dacey’s connections to Ireland. He noted that Dacey was born in Boston of Irish heritage and that five of his great grandparents had emigrated to Massachusetts in the mid-1800s.
But more significantly, Mealy told the gathering, Dacey was instrumental in establishing an exchange program between Washington University School of Medicine and the National Centre for Neurosurgery in Ireland at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital. The program, which was started in 2000, has neurosurgery residents from the United States and Ireland rotate between the respective departments.
Mealy went on to detail Dacey’s expertise and career, pointing out that Dacey is “internationally recognized for his contributions to the understanding and treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels in and around the brain.” Mealy also spoke of Dacey’s role in more than 200 manuscripts focused on neurosurgery and cerebrovascular physiology.
Mealy noted myriad honors Dacey has received and esteemed positions he has held in his career. Among them, Dacey, currently president of the Society of Neurological Surgeons, has served as president of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery, chair of the American Board of Neurological Surgery, chair of the Residency Review Committee for Neurosurgery, president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and chair of the Journal of Neurosurgery Editorial Board. He also has been elected into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
RCSI President and Professor Patrick Broe, who presented Dacey with the honorary fellowship, later lauded Dacey for the impact he’s had. “Dr. Dacey’s contribution to the specialty of neurosurgery in Ireland is immense,” said Broe, who added that residents from Ireland and the U.S. have benefited greatly from the exchange program Dacey helped create.
“When residents return to Ireland, they clearly demonstrate new thinking and a very academic approach to patient care,” Broe continued. “This is undoubtedly due to Dr. Dacey’s personal commitment to the program.”
RCSI professor and neurosurgeon Ciaran Bolger also praised Dacey’s dedication to the program. “The program gives both sets of trainees access to an opportunity to work in a different health-care environment, which greatly broadens their horizons, and an opportunity to see and live in a different part of the world,” Bolger said. “The enthusiasm for the program can be judged by the number of former trainees who traveled from the U.S. to be with Dr. Dacey when he received his honorary fellowship.”
Dacey said the RCSI honor is one of the greatest he’s received in his career, largely because of the exchange program.
“It’s been a wonderful interaction, and we’ve developed a great, extremely beneficial relationship,” said Dacey, who has led Washington University’s Department of Neurological Surgery for 24 years. “Our residents get a huge amount of perspective and experience when they go to Ireland. When they come back, they really excel.
“In light of that relationship, my Irish history and the respect I have for the Royal College of Surgeons and the tremendous people it’s celebrated, the honorary fellowship is a great honor, one that holds deep meaning for me.”
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.