It is with great sadness that we celebrate the life of an Emergency Medicine shero, Dr. Tamara O’Neal. Tamara was 38 years old and killed in front of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, where she was a beloved attending physician, on November 19, 2018. Dr. O’Neal was a positive agent of change in our University of Illinois at Chicago Emergency Medicine residency program, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, her hometown, and for the many underserved communities she served. We knew her, loved her, and worked side by side with her, during her residency and as an attending in our program and grieve the loss of one of our UIC BrownCoat family members. Her death is a devastating loss for us all. We write this tribute so the spirit and legacy of this remarkable physician and humanitarian will live on.
Tamara O’Neal grew up in La Porte, Indiana and was devoted to this community and her family even after she moved to Chicago for her medical school education and training. She directed and sang in her church choir where her brother, LaShawn, was pastor. Dedicated to her community and her faith, she negotiated her faculty contract at Mercy Hospital in order to protect her Sundays to attend church service as this was so integral to her life and spiritual wellbeing. Tamara played the piano, loved to cook, and take her nieces and nephews on outings to new restaurants. She had incredible faith, lived to serve others, and gave back to her community and the world especially the disadvantaged and underserved.
Dr. O’Neal attended Purdue University as an undergraduate and medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. She completed her residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago Emergency Medicine residency program. Tamara was a proud UIC BrownCoat Alum and she stayed on as faculty at one of the four core residency sites. Throughout her education, training, and career Tamara was dedicated to addressing health disparities. She volunteered often as a student, resident, and faculty member for the Illinois Heart Rescue to teach CPR in underserved communities as well as conducted sports physicals for hundreds of high school students often after working a night shift. She was an advocate and champion for addressing health inequities. She was and is a role model and mentor for many.
Committed to diversity, Tamara advocated for URM students and residents, often volunteering to support underrepresented medical student activities. Tamara was described as the brainchild for a cohesive study group of 10 fellow African American medical student classmates called the OHQ (one hitter quitters) with a stated mission for excellence and that a test was taken once and only once. Dr. Walker of this group described Tamara to be “filled with empathy, compassion, and a love and loyalty that was unmatched”. During her residency she presented at the 10th Annual Vera Morkovin Diversity Conference the lecture “A Unique Perspective: Being African American and A Woman in Medicine”. What was striking in her presentation was the statistic that < 2% of all physicians in the US are African American Females. As an attending physician, she mentored minority resident physicians, offering guidance and support. Dr. Tamara O’Neal was a trailblazer and knew the tremendous responsibility this entailed to help pave the way for others. Her death is an incredible loss to our specialty and all the lives she was positively impacting.
Tamara was a devoted friend, family member, classmate, and faculty member. She had an infectious smile and a great sense of humor. She was beautiful, resilient, compassionate, persistent, and had infinity kindness to all she touched. She had conviction, faith, a strong moral compass, and a mission to serve those in need. Our hearts are heavy and the world has lost a beautiful soul. We also grieve the loss of Officer Samuel Jimenez, a Chicago police officer, and Dayna Less, a pharmacy resident, who were also killed that day and our hearts and prayers go out to their families and friends.
In order to maintain the legacy of Dr. Tamara O’Neal several memorial funds have been initiated. Please feel free to contribute if you are so inclined to honor this Emergency Medicine shero.