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The Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) was founded in 1981 when Patricia Numann, MD, FACS, invited as many female surgeons as she could identify to breakfast at the October meeting of the American College of Surgeons. Sharing many common experiences, interests, and concerns, these women decided to meet annually on an informal basis. For the next few years, the first significant contact that many female residents or newly practicing female surgeons had with more professionally advanced surgical women was through these Wednesday morning breakfasts at the American College of Surgeons’ fall meeting.

Attendance grew each year until it became apparent that the group needed a more formal structure to address their common professional concerns. AWS was thus incorporated in 1986. In 1988, Tamar Earnest, MD, FACS, led an energetic membership campaign which brought the total number of female surgeons in the organization to nearly one thousand. To increase communication among the members, a quarterly newsletter and an annual professional development program were inaugurated at the fall meeting of the American College of Surgeons in 1989. As a result, it became apparent that the organization needed to consider its future direction within the surgical community. The first strategic planning session was held in 1991, resulting in the mission statement we retain today and strategies relating to four specific goals. Two of these strategies, namely the annual Fall AWS meeting for professional development and a governor position for an AWS representative in the American College of Surgeons, were accomplished in 1989 and 1995, respectively.


The Louise Schnaufer, M.D. Oral History Project, The Harvard Countway Library
Medtronic’s Women in Surgery Initiative, Series of videos with women in surgery

Check out more on the AWS Wiki Page.

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  • Since 1996, the AWSF/Ethicon Fellowship has supported a number of women surgeons by funding original research in topics of flexible GI endoscopy, laparoscopy, minimal access techniques or related emerging technology. Over a half a million dollars has been awarded to AWS members.
  • Dr. Patricia Numann, Founder of AWS, served as the second female President of the American College of Surgeons in 2011-2012.
  • In 2011, AWS launched the “Greening the OR” Competition.
  • In 2013, the Medical Student Committee created Medical School Chapters of AWS. There are currently over 40 chapters in the U.S. and internationally.
  • AWS members serve on every standing committee of the American College of Surgeons, and have participated in NIH panels on the Status of Women in Scientific careers.
  • AWS holds a seat on the American College of Surgeons Board of Governors.
  • AWS created a mentor network for those members needing advice regarding their careers, particularly at the resident level. These individuals work with medical schools and residencies in their area to provide mentors, organize social gatherings to network and offer moral support and advice. This service is available to members through the online member directory.
  • Several AWS members sit on the editorial board of the American Journal of Surgery.
  • The American Journal of Surgery dedicates one issue per year to AWS. AWS members are given the opportunity to submit and be invited to publish articles.
    The American Journal of Surgery dedicated an issue to Dr. Olga Jonasson, the first woman to lead an academic department of surgery. Dr. Jonasson was also honored with a biography in the National Library of Medicine Project: Changing the Face of Medicine.
  • Creation of the Starr Poster Contest for medical students and residents that has resulted in increased participation by students and residents at the annual conference, providing them exposure to the association and to mentors and leaders in the field.
  • The Claude H. Organ, Jr. MD, FACS, Traveling Fellowship was established by the Society of Black Surgeons, AWS, and the Surgical Section of the National Medical Association. Five of the eight of the nine award recipients have been members of AWS.
  • AWS was invited to appoint a liaison to the American College of Surgeons Women in Surgery Committee.
  • The AWS Council has a standing liaison from the American College of Surgeons Resident and Associate Society.
  • An AWS liaison to the Association of Academic Surgery was established, and networking events have been held yearly at their conference.
  • AWS holds standing seat at the American College of Surgeons Advisory Council for General Surgery. This member serves as a liaison and holds a seat on the AWS Council.
  • AWS helped evaluate gender related issues for surgery with the Residency Review Committee. The issues addressed include caseloads and family leave policies, call room facilities and residents’ overall work environment.
  • AWS coordinated a professionally produced film (Three Firsts: Women Pioneers in American Surgery) that focuses on the careers of three women pioneers in surgery: Alma Dea Morani, MD, the first female plastic surgeon; Nina Starr Braunwald, MD, the first female cardiac surgeon in the world and a former deputy director at the NIH; and Olga Jonasson, MD, the first female chair of a U.S. medical school department of surgery.