Dr. O’Connell is the founding physician and president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), the nation’s largest and most comprehensive health care network for unhoused people. Comprising over 600 medical and behavioral care providers at 30 sites, BHCHP serves as a model for similar outreach programs around the country.
Nearly four decades after establishing BHCHP in 1985, Dr. O’Connell continues to travel each week in a community outreach van, bringing vital medical care, food, and support to individuals living on the streets or in shelters. His knowledge of the complex factors underlying homelessness serves as the basis of his dignity-affirming, patient-centered approach. To many, he is a trusted healer, comforter, and friend.
In addition to his clinical and administrative duties, Dr. O’Connell serves as an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, his alma mater, where he inspires the next generation of physicians and shares insights from his years of practice in an area of medicine he has helped define and advance.
Dr. O’Connell’s work is chronicled by journalist Tracy Kidder in the recently released New York Times bestselling book, Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O'Connell's Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People. (Kidder also authored an extensive New York Times Magazine feature story on Dr. O’Connell in January 2023.) In 2015, Dr. O’Connell published his own collection of stories and essays titled Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor.
Dr. O’Connell is the editor of The Health Care of Homeless Persons: A Manual of Communicable Diseases and Common Problems in Shelters and on the Streets. His articles have appeared in medical journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Circulation, the American Journal of Public Health, and the Journal of Clinical Ethics.
Emmanuel College was privileged to confer an honorary degree on Dr. O’Connell in 2007, and we look forward to welcoming back to the Commencement stage a physician who has done so much to heal others in body, mind, and soul.