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Transcript: "Dr. Jessie Ternberg"

Dr. Jessie Ternberg, Li Ern Chen

Dr. Jessie Ternberg: My name is Dr. Jessie Ternberg. I have practiced surgery from 1954 to 1996. I was the first female surgeon at Washington University Barnes Hospital Service. When I arrived at the hospital in June of 1954 I went in to sign in and the gentleman at the hospital desk looked at me and he said, "No, we don't have any women in surgery." I thought, "Oh God, what am I going to do?" "Jessie," to them, was a male and Dr. Moyer had never confronted them with the idea that he had taken a woman.

Well, the other funny thing, of course, is at that time the nurses all wore little scrub dresses-- they were little pink scrub dresses-- and I was supposed to wear the little pink scrub dress, too. The orderlies wore the same kind of an outfit as the surgeons wore. So I was automatically thought of being a nurse and when the new interns would come in, they'd start telling me what to do in the OR and in my better moods I'd go ahead and do it, knowing that in a few minutes I was going to be at the scrub sink. And then they were going to start wondering and then they were really going to wonder when we got to the OR table and I was standing across from them. Everything that I walked into, nobody was expecting a female.

Li Ern Chen, General Surgery Resident: She seemed to always have a wonderful time recollecting all her experiences and she laughs at, you know, all the hardship that she had and, hopefully-- well, it's my hope that-- if I can do for the next generation what Dr. Ternberg has done for me, then I would consider my career successful.

Dr. Jessie Ternberg: One of the women residents, when she was finishing came and she gave me a little toy, heavy, like a truck. And she said it's because you paved the road. I thought that was kind of neat.

Li Ern Chen: She is the founder of pediatric surgery in St. Louis and she has operated on people older than I am and people younger than I am. Everybody knows Dr. Ternberg. When pediatric surgery was non-existent, she founded it. She created it as a specialty unto itself and made it a respected sub-specialty in the St. Louis community. And you'll be hard pressed to find parents in the St. Louis community who do not want a pediatric surgeon to operate on their child. And that is huge.

Dr. Jessie Ternberg: The most satisfying thing to me is now, is to encounter ex-patients, to receive graduation announcements, wedding announcements, to see-- walk through the airport and have a parent come up to me and say, "Oh, aren't you Dr. Ternberg? Thank you so much for--" That's-- counts a lot.

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