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Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons home banner written in yellow and black text. Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons home banner written in yellow and black text. Pioneers written in black text with a light blue background. Above the text is an image of three surgeons standing in an operating room performing surgery with several nurses and attendants observing.  Courtesy Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Contemporary Pioneers written in white text with a purple background. Above the text is an image of Alexa Canady preparing for surgery. Courtesy Detroit Free Press/Hugh Glannum. New Frontiers written in black text with a blue background. bove the text is an image of a head shot of a women surgeon wearing a mask, cap and protective eyewear.  Courtesy Sharon Henry, M.D. and Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems. History written in black text with a yellow background. Above the text is an image of an illustration of a building with a flag flying at the top. Courtesy National Library of Medicine.

With hard work and an education, combined with honesty and integrity, there are no boundries to what you can accomplish in white text and a purple background.

Portrait style image of a man wearing glasses and academic robes with a medal around his neck.  Courtesy LeSalle D. Leffall, Jr. Dr. Leffall believes the role of the medical school teacher is to “instruct, inspire, stimulate, develop talent, raise aspirations, and stretch the imagination.” He encourages his students to “strive for excellence and avoid using race as an excuse for any lack of success.”


LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. (1930 - ) is a leading oncology surgeon, and educator.


Born and raised in then-segregated Florida, LaSalle was strongly influenced by well-educated parents who encouraged his academic pursuits and emphasized “education as the great equalizer”.Image of man wearing white medical coat and white pants with a stethoscope in his coat pocket.  Courtesy LeSalle D. Leffall, Jr.

After graduating high school at age 15, LaSalle knew his chances of admission at a predominantly white university was near impossible. He decided to attend historically black Florida A&M University and graduated summa cum laude in 1948 at the age of 18. He earned his medical degree in 1952 from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. where he was the top ranking student in his class.

Dr. Leffall completed an internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis in 1953, and then spent his residency at both Freedmen's Hospital and D.C. General Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was accepted as one of the first black surgical oncology fellows at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in 1957, and remained there before serving two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Three people in surgical scrubs performing an operation on a patient. Courtesy LeSalle D. Leffall, Jr.Returning to Howard University to concentrate on an academic career in surgical oncology, Dr. Leffall rose through the ranks from assistant professor of surgery in 1962, to chairman of the department of surgery in 1970, a position he held for over 25 years.

Five men in surgical scrubs standing in conversation.  Courtesy LeSalle D. Leffall, Jr. He is currently the first Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine. Of the 7500 medical school graduates, Dr. Leffall has taught over 5000, and more than 250 surgical residents in his career at Howard University.

Magazine cover showing two surgeons in surgical scrubs. Courtesy Private Collection.
Dr. Leffall served as the first African American President of the American College of Surgeons in 1979, and the first African American President of the American Cancer Society in 1978. He holds eleven honorary degrees and was appointed a member and chair of the President's Cancer panel by President George W. Bush in 2002, and is the Chairman of the Board of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Following the credo that “education is the great equalizer”, Dr. Leffall was able to move beyond the boundaries of racism and prejudice and be successful in his education, his medical career and his life.


Man in white medical coat wearing a tie and standing in front of a portrait of himself.  Courtesy LeSalle D. Leffall, Jr.
Dr. Leffall at the unveiling of his portrait at Howard University College of Medicine, 2006.

  • B.S., Florida A & M University, 1948
  • M.D., Howard University College of Medicine, 1952
  • Surgical Internship, Homer G. Phillips Hospital, St. Louis, 1952-1953
  • Surgical Residency, Freedmen's Hospital and D.C. General Hospital, Washington, D.C., 1953-55
  • Surgical Oncology Fellowship, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, 1957-59
  • Chief of General Surgery, U.S. Army Hospital in Munich, Germany, 1960-61
  • Howard University College of Medicine, Washington, D.C.:
    • Chief Resident in surgery at Freedmen's Hospital, 1956-57
    • Assistant Professor of Surgery, 1962
    • Chairmen, Department of Surgery, 1970
    • Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery, 1992