“I was drawn to science and medicine because of the challenge and excitement of exploring the unknown and finding better ways to help people.”
Richard A. Gephardt
As one of the greatest surgeons of her day, Jessie Lamoin Ternberg served as an exemplary role model for generations of medical students and surgical residents. Colleagues note that “when you were in the operating room with Dr. Ternberg, you knew the most important person in that room was the patient. Each procedure, from the most complex to the simplest, would be a work of art.”
Pediatricians recognized her work by the minimization of scarring and the fineness of her sutures. Parents instantly recognize her wherever she goes, pulling grown children over to meet the surgeon who repaired their hernia or saved their lives. Always a courageous patient advocate, parents, families, patients and fellow pediatricians sought out and trusted Ternberg's advice.
“Jessie Ternberg was a pioneer in her field, a woman of many firsts” notes Representative Richard A. Gephardt [D–MO–3], who nominated her to be a Local Legend.
Passion, persistence and independence led Ternberg to open new doors for women in medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. She was passionately committed to seeking better ways to treat her patients. In order to achieve success, however, she had to overcome many obstacles. For example, when she arrived in St. Louis to begin her surgical residency she was told, “There are no women in surgery!”on the list, the erroneous gender interpretation of "Jessie" became apparent. So, too, did the lack of accommodations for a woman resident: Ternberg ended up in student nursing housing. Owing to the nurses' curfew, she was frequently locked out because of her heavy call schedule, spending many a night on a gurney in the recovery room instead.
Somehow she persisted and prevailed to become a woman of many firsts— in 1954 she became the first woman surgical resident at Barnes Hospital; in 1958, the first woman chief resident and subsequently, the first woman surgeon at the School of Medicine. Later she became the first woman ever to chair the School Faculty Council. Thus Ternberg succeeded in having her abilities recognized and respected and, in doing so, left a unique legacy to those who have followed.
A native of Corning, California, Ternberg earned a bachelor's degree from Grinnell College in 1946, a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Texas in 1950 and her medical degree from Washington University in 1953. Following a medical internship at Boston City Hospital, she returned to St. Louis for her surgery residency at Barnes Hospital. She was appointed Instructor in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in 1959, Assistant Professor in 1962, Associate Professor in 1965, and Professor of Surgery in 1971. She served as Chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery from 1971 until 1990.
Among her many recognitions are the Grinnell College Alumni Award, the Washington University School of Medicine Faculty—Alumni Award, the first Aphrodite Jannopoulo Hofsommer Award, the Horatio Alger Award and the Peter Raven Lifetime Achievement Award of the Academy of Science of St. Louis.
Appointed Instructor and Trainee (D.G.M.S.) in Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine
Becomes Professor of Surgery in Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine
Joins St. Louis Children's Hospital, rising to become Pediatric Surgeon–in–Chief.
Washington University School of Medicine