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Stanford University School of Medicine

Pioneering surgeon Olga Jonasson broke barriers for female physicians

executive-461653_1280Here at Scope, we're still glowing from the buzz of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so we pounced on a new piece on the late pioneering surgeon Olga Jonasson, MD.

Jonasson, who died in 2006, rose to become the first female chief of surgery at a hospital in the United States. Then, she went on to become the first female chair of a surgery department at a U.S. university. Her successes came after being told by a senior surgeon that her career choice was "absurd," according to a recent profile in Medical News Today recounts. Writer Honor Whiteman explained:

Through her spirited personality and exceptional surgical skills, Dr. Jonasson gained much respect in a field that was highly male centric.

'In my mind, she represented all that was admirable about surgeons and doctors [...] and it had absolutely nothing to do with her being a woman. It had only to do with who she was and how she related to those around her,' said Dr. Charles J.H. Stolar, who worked alongside Dr. Jonasson at [the University of Illinois] between 1974 and 1980, when she was a general surgery attendant.

'Her intimidating qualities notwithstanding she was held in awe by all of us residents. She represented the quintessential surgeon [...] smart, accurate, adept, clever, direct, compassionate, and honest. We all wanted to be like OJ, and still do,' he added.

Jonasson paved the way for later generations of female surgeons, including Stanford's Mary Hawn, MD, who is one of 16 female chairs of surgical departments in the U.S. and Canada, according to the article.

"Her becoming chair showed us all that it could be you being chair," commented Julie Freischlag, MD, vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Previously: Stereotype perception linked to psychological health in female surgeons, Bringing surgical training to female medical students in Zimbabwe and Sherry Wren, MD -- a surgeon's road home
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