Association of Women Surgeons

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The Association of Women Surgeons is an international organization of women who practice in surgical specialties which remained male dominated for years after women entered medicine in large numbers.[citation needed] The organization was formalized following a strategic planning session in which its mission statement, "To inspire, encourage, and enable women surgeons to achieve their personal and professional goals," was developed and adopted.



The Association of Women Surgeons was founded in 1981 when Patricia Numann, M.D, invited as many female surgeons as she could identify to breakfast at the October meeting of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) in the San Francisco Hilton Hotel. Sharing many common experiences, and concerns, this small group of women decided to meet annually. For the next few years, these breakfasts were the first significant contact that many female residents or newly practicing female surgeons had with more professionally advanced surgical women.


  • The first newsletter was produced by former AWS President Dr. Joyce Majure and distributed to all AWS members. Its purpose was to produce a sense of camaraderie among a diverse and geographically separated group of women. This is now distributed electronically as Connections.
  • The first AWS program entitled “Women to Women from Sabotage to Support” was presented in conjunction with the ACS Annual Clinical Congress.
  • AWS initiated an awards program, bestowing the first Honorary Membership Award on Judith Briles. Christine Haycock received the first Distinguished Member Award.
  • Former president Tamar Earnest purchased the AMA mail list of self-described women surgeons, initiated a membership campaign, which engendered enormous membership growth to over 1,000 members.


  • AWS held a strategic planning meeting to identify obstacles to the career advancement of women surgeons and strategize for the future. As a result, AWS focused on promoting suitably qualified women to positions on the American Board of Surgery and the American College of Surgeons Committees.
  • Former AWS President Dr. Joyce Majure created, compiled and edited the first edition of the AWS pocket mentor. This resource helped ease the transition from medical student to surgical resident and from resident to surgeon. It has since been updated and reprinted. The Pocket Mentor has been endorsed by the Association of Program Directors in Surgery and distributed to almost every surgeon in training in the United States.
  • AWS earned a seat on the ACS Board of Governors when Mary C. McCarthy, was elected to the Board in 1995.
  • An Annual Research Fellowship Grants program was established in partnership with Ethicon. To date, AWS has awarded eleven $25,000 annual fellowships supported by Ethicon Endo-Surgery to women surgeons performing original research in topics mainly related to minimally invasive procedures and breast disease.
  • The concept of an AWS Foundation was proposed and established by Christine Haycock MD to provide grants and scholarships to female surgeons and surgical residents. The Foundation now makes six awards annually.
  • The video Women Pioneers in Surgery was produced by the current AWS Governor M. Margaret Kemeny, M.D, in conjunction with United States Surgical. This film documented the lives and careers of three women pioneers in American surgery: Alma Dea Morani M.D., the first female plastic/reconstructive surgeon, Nina Starr Braunwald M.D., the first female cardiac surgeon and a deputy NIH director, and Olga Jonasson M.D., who was the first female chair of an academic department of surgery.
  • AWS began sponsoring networking breakfasts at various national meetings to provide networking opportunities for all surgeons. These networking events now occur annually at many major surgical meetings including the Association for Surgical Education, American Surgical Association and Association of Academic Surgeons Annual Meetings.
  • “Strategies for Success” became the first freestanding summer AWS meeting for professional development. The program was held in the summer of 1992 in Park City, Utah.
  • With the unexpected death of Nina Starr Braunwald, AWS instituted an award in her name. The award was endowed by a $20,000 gift for the foundation, established by her husband, Dr. Eugene Braunwald. The first Nina Starr Braunwald Award was presented to Dr. Claude Organ.


  • In an effort to provide guidance for medical students and surgical residents, a mentoring project was launched in the fall of 1997. This activity continues and AWS has now partnered with the American College of Surgeons in a junior faculty mentoring initiative.
  • In response to an increasing need, AWS produced a resource book regarding issues of sexual harassment and gender bias.
  • Under the leadership of Peggy Kemeny the AWS collaborated with the National Institutes of Health to produce a 24-minute video entitled Women Are Surgeons. This video targets young women and encourages them to take math and science courses throughout their schooling, and to consider surgery as a viable career. This was distributed to women in junior high schools throughout the country.
  • AWS initiated the Outstanding Woman Resident Award to recognize residents that demonstrate great potential as future leaders in a surgical field. Applicants must exhibit exceptional leadership abilities, have excellent technical and patient management skills, interact well with other health professionals, and serve as role models for junior residents and medical students. Seven women residents have now been recognized for their ability and leadership potential.
  • The American College of Surgeons established a Committee on Women's Issues in response to a proposal from AWS.
  • AWScope was established as an electronic publication sent six times a year to AWS members. This update informed members of new developments within the association and in the surgical field in addition to connecting members with other women surgeons in their areas of expertise.
  • Peggy Kemeny followed Mary C. McCarthy in 2000 as the second AWS / ACS Governor.


  • A Code of Conduct was published in collaboration with the American College of Surgeons. The Association of Organ Procurement Organizations has endorsed this as the standard of practice for transplant surgeons.
  • A visiting professor program was established to allow prominent women surgeons to share their expertise with medical students and surgeons in training, across the country.
  • An annual medical student award was initiated in honor of the founder Patricia J. Numann. The award is to permit a student to attend the Annual ACS Clinical Congress and the AWS meeting.
  • Four networking list serve areas were created to facilitate interaction and networking among members. One site is aimed particularly at medical students and surgeons in training. This provides an opportunity for residents and students to gain direct access to prominent women surgeons across the country.
  • AWS partnered with the American Journal of Surgery. AWS now has three designees on the AJS Editorial Board.
  • Under the leadership of Vivian Gahtan AWS a series of articles were produced describing the many areas and varieties of practice that surgery comprises. This series was aimed primarily toward trainees and was developed initially as a career development we-based resource. The series is now being published in the American Journal of Surgery.
  • AWS partnered with the American College of Surgeons, The American Surgical Association, and The Association of Program Directors in Surgery to conduct a national survey to explore interest in flexible training in surgery. These data have been accepted for publication in the Archives of Surgery.
  • The Governor's Committee on Chapter Activities recommended that an AWS representative be appointed to every chapter Council.
  • AWS successfully petitioned the American Board of Surgery to change the ABS requirements to allow residents 6 weeks off for 2 pregnancies during their residency without having to make up the time.
  • The AWS had a joint session with the ACS at the Clinical Congress. This was the first time the ACS has partnered with an outside group.
  • AWS developed two maternity/family leave policies: one for Practicing Surgeons and one for Residents. AWS intended the information to be utilized as a guideline, so that surgeons and residents are entitled to a reasonable policy that allows flexibility for the expectant surgeon or resident, while maintaining the quality standards of the profession.
  • A strategic planning meeting was held in the summer of 2003 leading to a restructuring of the AWS Council. As a result, a number of AWS Committees were developed to increase member participation at a national level. An AWS executive committee was established to provide council oversight.
  • Resident and medical student representatives were added to the council.
  • Hilary Sanfey established the first AWS chapter in Virginia in 2003. This chapter now has 73 members, the majority of whom are students or surgeons in training. The chapter holds an annual educational program in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the ACS Virginia Chapter. Fatima Cody Stanford, a first year medical student at the time, established a second chapter in Georgia.
  • AWS partnered with the International Surgical Society to establish a joint educational networking venture. The first symposium will take place in Montreal in 2007.

Past presidents[edit]

Dates Name Speciality Affiliation
Founder Patricia Numann Retired Endocrine Surgeon Syracuse, New York
1988–1990 Tamar Earnest Rabbi Allentown, Pennsylvania
1990–1992 Mary McCarthy Trauma Surgeon Wright State University School of Medicine, Dayton, Ohio
1992–1994 Linda Philips Plastic Surgeon University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas
1994–1995 Margaret Dunn Dean Wright State University School of Medicine, Dayton, Ohio
1995–1996 Joyce Majure General Surgeon St. Joseph Regional Med. Ctr., Lewiston, Idaho
1996–1997 M. Margaret Kemeny Director Queen’s Cancer Center, Jamaica, New York
1997–1998 Leigh Neumayer General Surgeon VA Hospital, Salt Lake City, Utah
1998–1999 Beth Sutton General Surgeon Wichita Falls, Texas
1999–2000 Dixie Mills Breast Surgeon Pacific Palisades, California
2000–2001 Kim Ephgrave General Surgeon and Associate Dean University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
2001–2002 Myriam Curet Minimally Invasive Surgeon and Associate Dean Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, California
2002–2003 Susan Kaiser Breast Surgeon Jersey City Medical Center, New York, New York
2003–2004 Vivian Gahtan Chief of Vascular Surgery SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York
2004–2005 Susan Stuart General Surgeon Phoenix Indian Health Service, Phoenix, Arizona
2005–2006 Hilary Sanfey Transplant Surgeon University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
2006–2007 Patricia Bergen Professor of Surgery University of Texas SW, Dallas, Texas

Note: beginning with the 1995-1996, presidential terms changed from two years to one year.

External links[edit]