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American College of Surgeons Lifetime Achievement Award Given to Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS


SAN FRANCISCO (October 27, 2014, 9:00 am): Last night the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) was presented posthumously to Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS (1940-2014), during the Convocation ceremony at the 2014 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, one of the largest educational meetings of surgeons in the world. The award, only the third given in the more than 100-year history of the ACS, honors Dr. Russell’s lifetime contribution to the art of medicine, surgery, and his dedicated years of service to the American College of Surgeons.

Accepting the award from the College’s 94th President Carlos A. Pellegrini, MD, FACS, FRCS(I)(Hon), were members of Dr. Russell’s family, his wife Nona, and daughters, Jackie and Katie.

A colon/rectal surgeon with deep roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dr. Russell served as the ACS Executive Director of the American College of Surgeons from 2000 to 2009.

He earned a bachelor of arts degree in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962 and his medical degree from Creighton University Medical School, Omaha, Neb., in 1966.

Dr. Russell performed a rotating internship at San Francisco General Hospital from 1966 to 1967 and began his general surgery residency at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), in 1967. His residency training was interrupted by service in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970, during which time he was a Lieutenant Commander and U.S. Navy flight surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga and the U.S.S. Forrestal.

Dr. Russell resumed his surgical training at UCSF in 1971 and completed it in 1975. During those same years, he undertook a research project on gastrointestinal hormones physiology at the Veterans Hospital-Fort Miley in San Francisco and a fellowship under world-renowned pancreatic surgeon Maurice Mercadier, MD, at the L’Hopital de la Pitie, part of the Hopitaux de Paris, France.

In 1975, Dr. Russell joined the practice of Donald M. Gallagher, MD, FACS, and Peter Volpe, MD, FACS, initially taking a preceptorship in colon and rectal surgery and then practicing in this specialty in San Francisco for nearly 25 years. By 1980, Presbyterian Hospital—formerly the Sanford Hospital and now the California Pacific Medical Center—recognized him for his patient care philosophy, his teaching of residents, and his ability to lead, naming him chair of its department of surgery, a position he held until he moved to Chicago, IL, in 2000. His wife of 35 years, Nona Chiampi Russell, MD, a pathologist, also practiced at this institution.

Dr. Russell was affiliated with several other hospitals in the San Francisco area and trained, mentored, and inspired countless residents and medical students as a clinical professor of surgery at UCSF. Students and residents always commented on his unique ability to remember their names and the names of their loved ones, as well as his willingness to always make time to listen to them—to understand their aspirations and to help them move forward in their careers.

He became a Fellow of the ACS (FACS) in 1979, and subsequently served in several leadership roles. He was Secretary and later President of the ACS Northern California Chapter, elected to the Board of Governors in 1990 and served in that role until 1993, when he was elected to the Board of Regents. He was Chair of the ACS Nominating Committee, the Member Services Liaison Committee, and the Advisory Council for Colon and Rectal Surgery.

In 1999, the College’s Board of Regents, facing unprecedented challenges, asked him to take the difficult job of Executive Director of the College. He had a reputation as a bright, kind, high-energy, individual who was willing to weigh all sides of an issue.

Soon after assuming the position of ACS Executive Director, he initiated a strategic planning process revealing his innovative and insightful leadership. The College structure was reorganized. Education programs were expanded to offer new and innovative courses. He directed the establishment of the ACS Foundation in 2005 to better support ACS scholarship programs, and then generously supported the Foundation, which earned him and his wife Nona the College’s Philanthropist Award.

A mission statement was developed to guide the work of staff and volunteers alike: “The American College of Surgeons is dedicated to improving the care of the surgical patient and to safeguarding standards of care in an optimal and ethical practice environment.” These articulately presented ideals continue to guide the ACS. Dr. Russell encouraged the College to take a proactive stance in the politically charged atmosphere of the early 2000s to protect patient’s access to quality care. Under his leadership the College’s presence in Washington D.C. grew and a new building was erected near Capitol Hill to house its expanding Division of Advocacy and Health Policy.

One of his most significant accomplishments as ACS Executive Director was bringing the Veterans Affairs (VA) National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, into the private sector under the College’s aegis as ACS NSQIP®, which launched in 2004. More than 550 hospitals have since become participants in ACS NSQIP and have used the program’s risk-adjusted, evidence-based outcomes data to significantly reduce complications, limit error, and save countless lives and millions of dollars.

A devoted and loving family man, he often credited his family for the tremendous support they provided him throughout his distinguished career: his wife, Nona; his daughters, Katie Russell, who is currently chief resident in general surgery at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and will begin a pediatric surgery fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in July 2015; Jackie Russell, a student in veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis; and his sister, Susie Tompkins Buell.

The late C. Rollins Hanlon, MD, FACS, of Chicago, Ill., received the first ACS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and the late George F. Sheldon, MD, FACS, of Chapel Hill, N.C., was the second recipient of the award in 2012.

For more on the life of Dr. Russell, visit:

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About the American College of Surgeons
The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for all surgical patients. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 79,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, visit


Dan Hamilton
Sally Garneski 

Editor’s note: Photo available on request from the ACS media relations team.