The American College of Surgeons (ACS) presented the Dr. Mary Edwards Walker Inspiring Women in Surgery Award to Yeu-Tsu Margaret Lee, MD, FACS, at the Convocation at Clinical Congress 2018 in Boston, MA. This award was established by the ACS Women in Surgery Committee (WiSC) and is presented annually at the Clinical Congress to recognize an individual’s significant contributions to the advancement of women in surgery.
Dr. Lee is from Honolulu, HI, and was born in Xian, China, in 1936. During her childhood, four of her siblings died from illness, motivating Dr. Lee to become a physician. Her family was forced to flee to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War, and she immigrated to the U.S. in 1955, graduated from Harvard Medical School, Boston, in 1961, and has worked as a general surgeon and a surgical oncologist for more than 50 years. In the early 1980s, she was a tenured associate professor of surgery, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, and head physician, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, but chose to pursue a different path.
The Dr. Mary Edwards Walker Inspiring Women in Surgery Award
The Dr. Mary Edwards Walker Inspiring Women in Surgery Award honors Mary Edwards Walker, MD (1832–1919), for her exemplary inspiration as the first female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army and the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor—the highest U.S. Armed Forces decoration for valor. After the Civil War, Dr. Walker devoted her life to supporting women’s suffrage and was a frequent lecturer on health care, temperance, and women’s rights. Most notably, Dr. Walker was unwavering in her commitment to service to her country and the surgical profession, and repeatedly excelled in the face of significant adversity. Through Dr. Walker’s example of perseverance, excellence, and pioneering behavior, she paved the way for the women surgeons of today.
In 1983, Dr. Lee moved to Hawaii, worked at Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, as chief, surgical oncology section of general surgical services, and joined the U.S. Army Corps. She was deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and treated many U.S. soldiers as well as Iraqi prisoners of war. She served on a team of surgeons that performed more than 125 operations in a 400-bed hospital in northern Saudi Arabia. Dr. Lee received several accolades in the military, including an “A” Proficiency Designator from the Army Medical Department and a Certificate of Achievement. After retiring from the Army as a colonel, she became professor of surgery, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, where she was the only woman surgeon for most of her career.
Dr. Lee has participated in medical missions to Ghana, Honduras, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and other underserved countries. She has made many international trips to promote friendship and medical exchanges. Notably, in 1995, she was the leader of a Women Surgeons Delegation to Russia and Romania. The trip was a Citizen Ambassador Program sponsored by People to People International, which was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. From 2000 to 2017, Dr. Lee taught surgery for a month, four times a year, at the Tzu-Chi University School of Medicine, Hualien, Taiwan.
Dr. Lee was one of 21 women surgeons in attendance at a networking breakfast at the 1981 Clinical Congress—led by ACS Past-President Patricia Numann, MD, FACS—which proved to be the genesis of the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS). She has been a supporter of the association, in time and talent, since its inception, and her presence at the AWS meetings, her academic career at teaching hospitals, and her research publications provide women surgeons and medical students from around the world an example of what women can achieve in the field.
Because her home is in Hawaii, midway between the East and West, she hopes to function as a “bridge,” contributing to global understanding and promoting communication, collaboration, and goodwill, and continues to work in the areas of medical education, international health, and world peace.
Committed to improving the care of the surgical patient, Dr. Lee is an outstanding leader and role model for surgeons everywhere. Her contributions to academic medicine in surgery, in the military, and in surgical volunteerism worldwide have made a lasting impression on the surgical profession. Her passion, endless energy, and dedication to the ACS and to women in surgery are without equal.
I have known Margaret for over 35 years. Not only she has been an inspiration to the students of surgery but also to her peers and colleagues at large. I do not know any other person more deserving for such a prestigious award. She definitely fulfills Dr. Walker’s example of “perseverance, excellence, and pioneering behavior” that will continue to inspire future surgeons. For me, she embodies the very best attributes of a great surgeon as well as a great friend and colleague.