Richard MacKay, MD ’73
September 1, 2022 – The UVA Medical Alumni Association is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2022 Humanitarian Award: Richard MacKay, MD ’73.
MacKay dedicated his life to providing the highest quality medical care to the marginalized. Graduating from medical school with Alpha Omega Alpha honors and being admitted to prestigious training programs, the world of medicine was open to him, from the accolades of academia to the benefits of private practice. Instead, MacKay chose government service in remote, challenging areas.
He first served in the U.S. Public Health Indian Health Service on the Navajo Reservation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, for 12 years. While there, he immersed himself in Navajo culture to better understand the juxtaposition of Navajo mores and traditional Western medicine, thereby breaking down barriers to care that might otherwise exist. Rather than living in the “compound,” as most Health Service staff did, he chose to live among the people, helping an elderly woman farm and tend her goats in exchange for a small cabin on her property. He next served for three years in remote areas of Alaska north of the Arctic Circle, usually as the sole MD on staff.
Perhaps MacKay’s most difficult and challenging assignment was the year he spent with the American Refugee Committee at a “Reception Camp” set up by the Sudanese government to house refugees fleeing the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Of that experience, he wrote, “New arrivals were issued tents, but those who couldn’t get along with their 14-18 roommates often chose to make their own shelters. We often wondered what unspeakable physical and emotional hardships these people endured before leaving their homes and coming to Sudan.”
Seeing the great needs in Africa, MacKay next joined the Peace Corps as regional medical officer for East Africa, a position he held for nine years and which, while based in Nairobi, Kenya, took him throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa, caring for those who chose, as Peace Corps volunteers, to care for others.
Through his work in Africa, he became increasingly interested in infectious diseases, particularly in AIDS. As a result, he took on the final role in his career as director of the Inpatient HIV Service at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, serving a primarily poor, frequently homeless, patient population.
Richard MacKay died in March 2020. This award is presented posthumously.