Dr. John O'Neill, C'52
During his 45 years as a physician in the field of ophthalmology, Dr. John F. O’Neill has witnessed firsthand the progress made by leaps and bounds in his profession. “When I started in ophthalmology, in 1957, a person having cataract surgery might be confined to bed rest in the hospital for a week to 10 days, often with sandbags holding his or her head completely still,” he explains. “Today, one might go to an outpatient center, have the procedure, and in a few hours be back home sitting up and watching television.”
Dr. O’Neill has also contributed to this successful progression of technology and treatment, including teaching the next generation of ophthalmologists. In addition to his private practice, he has spent much of his career as a clinical professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine and until recently also as a clinical professor of ophthalmology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Dr. O’Neill was drawn to a future in medicine early on. “When I was six years old,” he recalls, “my mother died of pneumonia the same year that penicillin was discovered. I know that was a major influence on my life’s direction.” As he studied medicine he became intrigued by the precise and delicate procedures required in ophthalmic surgery, especially in children, and the great benefits of early detection and treatment.
After graduating with honors from the Mount in 1952 with a degree in biology, where he was one of four brothers who attended the school, he entered Georgetown University School of Medicine and then trained in ophthalmology at the University of Cincinnati and Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver. Following several years in military medicine, he went on to spend a year training in pediatric ophthalmology at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He then joined the practice of Dr. Frank Costenbader, considered to be the founding father of pediatric ophthalmology.
As a full-time faculty member at Georgetown, which he joined in 1983, O’Neill served as director of the center’s Ophthalmology Residency Training Program and established the center’s first pediatric ophthalmology service and post-residency fellowship training program. He also continues on the senior attending staff at Children’s National Medical Center.
His commitment to helping others see has not stopped there. Dr. O’Neill has volunteered his time and talents teaching and operating in many other countries. He has served as a member of the expert professional review panel for the International Eye Foundation’s “Seeing 2000” program to expand eye care for children in the developing world. In 2004, he received its Promotion of Peace and Vision Award.
While at home, he volunteers to provide eye care for a pediatric mobile van serving children in Washington’s inner city. He says, “There is great satisfaction in helping children who are underserved and might never receive eye care otherwise.”
John is one of four brothers to attend the Mount including William, C’49; James, C’56; and Edward, C’59, MD.