Success stories of Palestinian achievers from all over the world

John van Aalst

Personal Info

  • Country of residence: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Born in: 1962
  • Age: 54
  • Curriculum vitae :


John A. van Aalst, Assistant Professor of Surgery and Director of Pediatric and Craniofacial Plastic Surgery at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, can pinpoint the exact moment he decided to become a doctor.

"I was teaching English in Jerusalem at the Anglican School for boys in the mid-1980s," he explains, "and I saw a young man stabbed in the back. I wanted to help, but as an English teacher there was nothing I could do. This incident is what inspired my decision to go to medical school."

John van Aalst is the author of multiple scientific papers. He is the first recipient of the von Deilen and Curtis Fellowship in Craniofacial Anomalies and the UNC School of Medicine Teaching Excellence Award. He has received several grants to fund on-going basic science and clinical research.

Twice a year, he travels to the West Bank to perform surgery on Palestinian children with cleft lip and palate. The Tulkarem General Hospital, where van Aalst performs his surgeries, holds special meaning for him. His mother was born there in 1927 and he still has family in the area. Currently, he is working to establish a Cleft Care Center at the hospital. "I feel I'm giving my mother something back and am excited that I will be able to be part of creating a cleft center of excellence in the West Bank, where none currently exists," van Aalst says.

Born in Philadelphia in 1962, van Aalst earned his BA and MA from Dartmouth College and his MD from Vanderbilt University. His initial interest in medicine focused on trauma, but he was drawn to plastic surgery because of its trauma components and the "range of creative reconstructive options that were exciting to me at that time, and still are." He continued his education in General Surgery at Case Western Reserve University and Plastic Surgery at Indiana University, followed by a Craniofacial Fellowship at Indiana University.

Van Aalst is also involved in basic science research looking at stem cells and nanofibers for tissue engineering in his lab at UNC, but states that "my endeavors on the West Bank are the most important projects."

"I deeply believe I have a responsibility to give something back to Palestinians," says van Aalst. "I'm always surprised at people who have left Palestine and don't feel that responsibility. Doing these surgeries is what I feel I can contribute."


Achievements and Awards


American Board of Plastic Surgery 2007, American Board of Surgery 2003.


Outcomes studies with craniofacial and cleft surgeries, tissue engineering with nanotecnology and stem cells.

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