Robert Ferris '92
It is no secret that Holy Cross has a long and venerable tradition of producing skilled healers. What is less obvious -- and, perhaps, less demonstrable -- is how our doctors perpetually infuse their practice, research, and actions with an ongoing commitment to justice; to standing in solidarity with those who suffer.
From Joseph Murray to Anthony Fauci to Joyce O’Shaughnessy, Holy Cross physicians have made these concepts an essential part of the clinic.
Another extraordinary example of this work lives in the life and career of Bob Ferris.
A psychology major at Holy Cross, Bob worked after graduation for two years in the Worcester Public Schools and volunteered renovating houses through the group Matthew 25. In 1994, he began medical studies at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.
With the inspiration and friendship of a classmate and Passionist priest, Bob also began traveling to and meeting families in communities in Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Honduras. He describes his role at that time as supportive, “handholding, even.” Yet, as his medical experience developed, he became more and more involved with vaccination programs and performing critical medical functions. Bob took advantage of time off during breaks from medical studies to return to the parts of the world where he saw need and suffering, especially in Haiti.
After earning his medical degree in 1998, he deferred his internship and elected to spend a year volunteering in Haiti at a pediatric hospital and orphanage. He saw -- and was moved to action by -- the number of children dying of AIDS. He returned to the U.S. to pursue a residency at St. Vincent Hospital in Greenwich Village, caring for people with HIV.
Ultimately, Bob became boarded in both pediatrics and internal medicine, and then embarked on clinical research in the metabolic complications of HIV at SUNY Stony Brook, and entered the master’s program in public health at Columbia University.
Around the time he finished his clinical research, the US government had recognized that the global AIDS pandemic was a major crisis. Bob joined USAID and served as cochair on a working group for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which to this day supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment for 6.7 million men, women and children worldwide.
Today, Bob is the Chief of the Division of Technical Leadership and Research in the Office of HIV/AIDS at the United States Agency for International Development, and oversees a $125 million technical assistance and research portfolio. At USAID, Bob has provided technical assistance to more than 30 national HIV programs, including 20 nations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Haiti is never far from his mind. In 2010, after the earthquake, Bob served as a medical officer for USAID aboard the US Navy’s hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, helping to coordinate medical care for the critically injured.
For his lifelong devotion to healing and research; for his dedication to easing the suffering of the sick; and for advocating on behalf of millions of women, men, and children around the world who face health crises, the College of the Holy Cross presents to Robert Ferris the Sanctae Crucis Award.