“When I was four, my older sister died of complications from measles and that had a profound impact on me. Also, my uncle was a doctor whom my father had helped put through medical school and we had great respect and admiration for him. Then I entered the University of Rochester wanting to take pre-medicine courses, only to be told nursing was the only route open. I told my parents and my father said, 'If you want to be a doctor, don't let anyone stop you!'”
Thomas M. Reynolds
“A SERVICE-ORIENTED LIFE AND LOVE OF COMMUNITY”
It was the devastating loss to measles of her six-year old sister, Jean, during the Great Depression that set Joyce McChesney to dedicate her life to medicine. Backed by her parents, who never wanted to hear her say, "I could have been...," McChesney bucked the societal norms of the 1940s that frowned on women becoming anything more than housewives, teachers, secretaries or nurses.
Instead, to her credit and the good fortune of the Greater Rochester community, she became one of the first anesthesiologists -let alone female anesthesiologists - in practice anywhere in the country.
Said Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY-26) when he nominated McChesney to be a Local Legend of Medicine, "Our region is incredibly fortunate to have an individual that gives so much to both her profession and her community."
Graduating from high school in 1943, she began a six-year medical education odyssey which took her first to the University of Rochester and then Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, for pre-medical education. Then it was on to Northwestern University, in Chicago, to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in 1947, a bachelor of medicine degree in 1948 and finally(!) in 1949, her M.D.
Having proven herself capable of choosing-and successfully traveling-a road rarely taken by women of her generation, she decided to specialize in anesthesiology, a part of medicine which was virtually non-existent at the time. In 1950, she became a resident in anesthesia at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital, in Los Angeles, and by 1952 had opened her own anesthesiology practice.
For the next eleven years, her life was a professional and personal whirlwind as she maintained her practice, served as chief of anesthesiology at Gardena Hospital, in Gardena, California, married and became the mother of two sons and a daughter, then divorced and returned to Rochester with her three children.
For the next thirty years, she served as an attending anesthesiologist at St. Mary's, Highland and Monroe Community Hospitals, was a member of the courtesy staff at Meyers Community Hospital, in Sodus, and was a consultant anesthesiologist at Lakeside Memorial Hospital, in Brockport. From 1979 to 1983, McChesney was appointed chair of the division of neuro-anesthesiology at St. Mary's Hospital.
"My career spanned some of the most exciting years in the development of anesthesiology," McChesney recalls. "We went from actually dripping ether on a gauze mask and doing things simply because they worked, to developing specific drugs for specific needs. We instituted the use of very sophisticated instrumentation and techniques to insure the safety of patients and the success of more and more complicated procedures."
In 1994, McChesney retired from practicing anesthesiology-only to become a very active member of the Rochester Rotary Club, chairing the volunteer committee and serving in various other capacities since, even as a summer camp lifeguard. "To me, it was a natural extension of a service-filled life," she says.
In 1998, when she received the Medical Society of the County of Monroe's Edward Mott Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement, a medical colleague of hers said, "Joyce typifies how far women in medicine have advanced in the last half of the 20th Century, and how much they have to contribute to our profession."
Opens private practice in anesthesiology
Becomes chief of anesthesiology department, Gardena Hospital, Gardena, California
Joins attending staff, Department of Anesthesiology, St. Mary's Hospital, Rochester
Becomes chairman, Division of Neuro-Anesthesia, St. Mary's Hospital, Rochester
Northwestern University, Chicago