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Ron Harris
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Howard University College of Medicine, a National Leader in Training Women Surgeons, Celebrates 140th Anniversary

WASHINGTON (Nov. 18) -- Dr. Karyn L. Butler still remembers vividly the responses she received at a number of surgery training programs when she applied there some 20 years ago.

“At some of the interviews, they would ask me something like, “How do you know you’re strong enough to do this, to become a surgeon,’” recalled Butler, now director of surgical critical care and associate director of surgery at Hartford Hospital. “Surgery was seen as the men’s club back them.”

Back then, the number of female surgeons at most institutions was between slim to none.

Dr. Patricia L. Turner, surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, came along years later, but recalled a similar experience.

At two different programs she visited, medical residents showed her and other applicants a slide show designed to attract prospects to their program. It included bikini-clad women as an incentive.
“It was obviously targeted at men,” Turner said.

But one institution, they said, was much more inviting towards women, which is why they both became surgeons at Howard University College of Medicine’s surgery residency training program.

The historically black university’s attitude has paid huge dividends for the program.

Since the college produced its first female surgeon, Dr. Constance Richardson in 1977, it has graduated 50 women from its surgery training program, school officials said, making it one of the nation’s leading institutions in the production of women surgeons. In comparison, Johns Hopkins College of Medicine, one of the nation’s most honored institutions, has produced 21 women surgeons since it was formed in 1893, school officials said.

The college and its graduates are celebrating its women surgeons and other accomplishments this year as part of its 140th anniversary. Hundreds of graduates from around the nation will gather for a black tie gala Saturday, Nov. 22, at the J.W. Marriott in Washington, D.C. The college, which continues to graduate twice as many African-American doctors as any other school in the nation, will spotlight four of its past deans and celebrate its many accomplishments.

Dr. Debra H. Ford, vice-chair of the College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and director of the General Surgery Residency Program, said Howard, because of its overall orientation, is more comfortable for women who want to become surgeons.
“As a diverse institution, we’re more open to accepting female surgeons,” said Ford, herself a graduate of the program.
She and others give a lot of credit for opening the door to women surgical trainees to Dr. LaSalle Leffall, former chair of the Department of Surgery now in his 47th year as a professor at the College of Medicine.

Turner said Leffall certainly was one of the reasons she chose Howard’s surgical program.
“He’s an icon,” she said of Leffall, who has taught approximately 5,000 medical students, about three quarters of all of the school’s graduates since it was founded in 1868, and helped train 260 of the 310 residents trained since the program’s inception in 1936.

With the nation projected to have a severe shortage of surgeons in the future, there is a strong need now to get more women into surgery, Ford said.
“More than half of the people in medical schools across the country now are women,” she said. “If we don’t get more of them to become surgeons, we’re going to have an even worse shortage than projected.”

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