Major Barbara Stimson: A Historical Perspective on the American Board of Surgery Through the Accomplishments of the First Woman to Achieve Board Certification

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Abstract

Dr. Barbara Bartlett Stimson, AB, MD, MedScD, FACS (1898–1986) was a pioneering orthopedic surgeon from a prominent American family who, in 1940, became the first woman certified by the American Board of Surgery (ABS, certificate number 860). It would be another 7 years and approximately 2500 candidates before the next female surgeon would be certified. A member of the third class to admit women to Columbia Medical School and the second female surgical resident to complete training at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Dr. Stimson was a confident and exceptionally accomplished trailblazer for women in surgery. In this biographical sketch based upon documents from the ABS, and the archives of Vassar College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Dr. Stimson's motivations, attitudes, and unique accomplishments emerge as testimony to the exceptional career of this driven, self-possessed woman. Stimson was undaunted by the sex-based conventions of her time, and achieved a notable career as a surgeon in the profession she loved; first honing her skills at a busy urban fracture service in New York, then serving with distinction in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II, and finally returning to the states to become a respected leader in her field. Her life story and unprecedented ABS certification affirm her conviction that proven skill and ability can be used as a means of overcoming unfounded biases, and helped pave the way for future generations of board certified female surgeons in the United States.

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