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School of Medicine Columbia

O’Neill Barrett, Chairman Emeritus of Internal Medicine, Dies at 88

O’Neill Barrett Jr., MD, MSc., FACP, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Internal Medicine, died July 1, 2017. He was 88.

Known as a master clinical teacher, Dr. Barrett’s esteemed medical career spanned more than four decades including 16 years at the School of Medicine. After serving as the first chairman of the Department of Comprehensive Medicine at the University of South Florida from 1974 to 1976, Dr. Barrett joined the faculty of the School of Medicine in 1976 as a professor and vice chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine. From 1980 to 1994, Dr. Barrett served in a number of administrative and teaching capacities, including professor of medicine and director of the Division of General Medicine; assistant dean for academic affairs; professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine; and assistant dean for clinical curriculum. In addition to his extensive professional contributions to the School of Medicine, Dr. Barrett was also a distinguished adjunct professor in the College of Pharmacy for nearly 15 years. He continued to support the School of Medicine following his retirement in 1994, serving a total of six years as a member of the Admissions Committee from 2010 to 2016. From 1994 to 1999, he served as Field Representative for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Affectionately known to his colleagues, medical students, and residents as the “Colonel,” Dr. Barrett’s expectations of others were high, and he was passionate about the scientific aspects of medicine, teaching and mentoring aspiring physicians, and caring for patients. His firm yet supportive demeanor resonated with medical students and residents, as he was committed to encouraging them to meet and exceed the high standards he set for knowledge and professionalism. In 1990, Dr. Barrett began a program designed to improve the teaching effectiveness of clinical faculty in primary care. He played a leading role in developing innovative teaching techniques, including student evaluations using simulated patients and the objective structured clinical examination technique. He was co-director of the “Introduction to Clinical Practice” course. When asked about the rewards of his work, Dr. Barrett once responded that the greatest is his own knowledge that he has done a good job, but the second greatest is knowing that the students also know it. When asked about School of Medicine graduates, he is quoted as saying “Our product is superb. Since so many of our graduates practice in South Carolina, I’ve been able to watch them closely. If our school’s charge is to produce good doctors, we are certainly meeting it.”

A well-respected professor, he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times and the award was named in his honor in 1989. The O’Neill Barrett Teaching Excellence Award is given annually at commencement by the graduating class to two faculty members in recognition of outstanding teaching during the four years of medical school. In 1992, Dr. Barrett was presented with the Dean’s Medal for Distinguished Service by Dean J. O’Neal Humphries.

Dr. Barrett was born on March 21, 1929, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1949 and a medical degree in 1953, both from Louisiana State University, and a master’s of science degree from Baylor University in 1958. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Barrett completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. He pursued additional fellowship training in Hematology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. in 1959. Dr. Barrett served 20 years in the U.S. Army where he commanded the 8th U.S. Army Field Hospital in Vietnam, served as chief of the Department of Medicine at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii, and served as Chief, Department of Medicine, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He retired in 1973 at the rank of colonel. Several years after his retirement, he wrote a book, “not much of a war…”, detailing his experience in Vietnam. Dr. Barrett was the recipient of several awards for his service to the United States and to medicine, including the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Legion of Merit Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Laureate Award from the American College of Physicians, and the Order of Military Medical Merit, U.S. Army Medical Department, Moncrief Army Hospital Chapter. He published 48 refereed journal articles and served as co-editor and senior author of Internal Medicine in Vietnam, published by the Office of the Surgeon General.

Dr. Barrett was a highly respected teacher, colleague, mentor, and friend to many and his passing is a large loss for the School of Medicine and the entire medical community.

A memorial service was held on July 5, 2017 at Wildewood Downs. Interment and Military Honors will follow at a later date at Ft. Jackson National Cemetery. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the University of South Carolina Educational Foundation in memory of Dr. O'Neill Barrett. Gifts should be made out to the USC Educational Foundation and directed to the Elois and O’Neill Barrett, Jr., Endowed Scholarship Fund, Account #1B1821. Checks may be mailed to the USC Educational Foundation, Office Of Gift Processing, 1027 Barnwell Street, Columbia, SC 29208. Dr. Barrett’s obituary is available on the Dunbar Funeral Home website. -

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