2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award recipient

Richard A Vinroot Jr

Dr. Richard Vinroot is an emergency physician at one of New Orleans’ busiest hospitals. The stress of that work would be enough for most, but not Vinroot, who has taken his skill and passion for caring for people in need across the globe.

Dr. Vinroot was a resident at Charity Hospital in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. He immediately threw himself into the efforts to care for those affected by the storm’s devastation. “Being there at that time was like a disaster medicine fellowship,” Vinroot said. “I was essentially living in a hospital in New Orleans and treating all kinds of illnesses that resulted from the storm and from the living conditions that followed. And actually, throughout that period, I was also being flown around in helicopters by the Navy to treat others in the region affected by the storm.”

The years after the storm were so unique that Dr. Vinroot could not picture himself going straight to work in a conventional hospital setting following residency. Instead, he volunteered and joined Medecins Sans Frontieres/ Doctors Without Borders. He served as a TB/ HIV Field Physician in the Mathare Slum, in Nairobi, Kenya for a year. This led to him being sent to Haiti during the earthquake disaster, one year later. Going forward, both experiences had a huge influence on his career.

In 2013, Vinroot joined the Navy. He was 43 years old. In the years since, his service has taken him across the world. He has served as a Trauma Team Leader during Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2014, caring for soldiers injured by IED blasts. He served in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemonnier, a base of roughly 4,000 U.S. military personnel and Coalition forces. Soldiers from the base often deploy on operations related to counterterrorism and antipiracy.

Through all of this, Vinroot has maintained a close relationship with Chapel Hill and UNC, serving on the UNC Board of Visitors, the Gillings School of Public Heath Alumni Board, the boards of both the Medical Foundation of North Carolina and the Center for the Study of the American South. When he’s able to find downtime, he says he likes to catch up on his Carolina alumni magazines.

During his military career, Dr. Vinroot has been honored with multiple awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the US Army Achievement Medal, the NATO Service Medal, and others. He will now add the Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award from his beloved alma mater.

In nominating Vinroot for this award, Dr. James Hundley (UNC SOM ’67) put his unique qualifications into perspective. “Although Rich is younger than our usual awardees, he has provided services that few others have during his career. In addition, to my knowledge, he has placed himself at much greater risk of bodily harm than other recent alumni. In doing so, he has brought great honor and distinction not only to himself, but also to the UNC School of Medicine.”

In recognition of his exceptional achievements and selfless service to our nation, we are proud to present the Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award to Dr. Richard Vinroot, Jr.