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News

Distinguished Alumni 2023

Published Date:
Wesley Robinson-McNeese, MD, ’86, is the recipient of the 2023 SIU SOM Distinguished Alumni Service Award. 
Wesley Robinson-McNeese, MD

Dr. Robinson-McNeese is the SIU System Executive Director for Diversity Initiatives and Special Advisor to the SIU Department of Antiracism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. During his medical school years, he was class president. He completed his emergency medicine residency at McGaw Medical Center, Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, going on to practice for 15 years. 

He has served his alma mater in a multitude of roles and has “worn many hats” throughout his tenure at SIU: associate professor of internal medicine and humanities since 2001, former SIU Alumni Society Board of Governors member and chair and participant in numerous committees. He was founder of the Office of Diversity at SIU School of Medicine and founder and director of the McNeese Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program (P4) in conjunction with Illinois School District 186 in Springfield. A graduate of SIU’s MEDPREP program in Carbondale, he created  scholarships supporting its students’ dreams of careers in medicine or dentistry. He also takes the time to mentor learners throughout their medical education journeys and beyond. 

Dr. McNeese’s leadership and deep commitment to the common good is evident by his service on many community-based committees and boards, his ordination as a Church of God minister and the endearing impression he leaves with all who encounter him.  

Julie Panepinto, MD, MSPH, ’91, is the recipient of the 2023 SIU SOM Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. 

Photo of Julie Panepinto

Panepinto is a pediatric hematologist, researcher and champion for helping people living with sickle cell disease (SCD). She became the director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Division of Blood Diseases and Resources (DBDR) in January 2023. She completed general pediatrics residency at University of Wisconsin in Madison and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant fellowship at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. 

As a pediatric hematologist, Dr. Panepinto rose to be a tenured professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the director of their Center for Clinical Effectiveness Research and the Sickle Cell Disease Center. She has received outstanding teaching awards at Brown University and the Medical College of Wisconsin, and had research supported by NIH grants as well as her appointment to study sections of the NIH, the American Society of Hematology and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Dr. Panepinto holds many national elected and appointed leadership and committee positions and is the author of numerous research publications. For nearly 20 years, Julie has been involved in her heartfelt passion: chronic disease research and caring for children with sickle cell disease. 

Sameer Vohra, MD, JD ’11, is the recipient of the 2023 SIU SOM Distinguished Alumni Early Career Award. 
Sameer Vohra professional headshot

Governor JB Pritzker appointed Dr. Sameer Vohra as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health in August 2022. 

Prior to his appointment, Dr. Vohra was a practicing primary care pediatrician and an associate professor of pediatrics, public health, medical humanities and law at SIU School of Medicine, and the founding chair of the Department of Population Science and Policy. He also served the State of Illinois as the interim chair of the Children’s Mental Health Partnership. A Fulbright and Presidential Leadership Scholar, Dr. Vohra previously served on the Illinois State Board of Health, the Illinois Medicaid Advisory Committee, the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund Steering Committee as well as several national committees.

Dr. Vohra completed his medical residency in pediatrics at the University of Chicago, where he also earned a Master of Arts in public policy. He is a cross-disciplinary leader in state and national health policy formulation, and his ongoing focus has been on improving health outcomes in central and southern Illinois.