Women's College Hospital - Health Care for Women, Revolutionized

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Who Was Dr. Jessie Gray?

Dr. Jessie Gray

Remembered fondly as Canada's "First Lady of Surgery," Dr. Jessie Gray joined the surgical staff of Women's College Hospital in July 1941. Five years later, in 1946, she was appointed surgeon-in-chief at the Hospital in 1946. She would hold this position until her retirement in 1964.

The career of Dr. Jessie Gray is full of "firsts" for women in a field of surgery. In 1934, Dr. Gray graduated from the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto and was the first woman to win a gold medal for the highest standing in a graduating class. She then went on to become the first woman to train as a surgeon in Toronto, the first woman to earn a master of surgery degree in Canada and the first woman to take the Gallie Course in surgery.

She was also the first woman to become a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada in 1941 and the first woman member of the Central Surgical Society of North America. From 1940 to 1941, Dr. Gray was the first woman resident in surgery at the Toronto General Hospital. In 1954, Dr. Gray received the Elizabeth Blackwell Citation of the New York Infirmary, named in honour of the first woman to graduate medical school in the United States.

At Women's College Hospital, Dr. Gray helped to develop Canada's first cancer detection clinic. At the time, she was considered to be one of the top four cancer surgeons in North America. In addition, Dr. Gray was appointed as a clinical teacher of surgery in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto in 1941, and then as an associate professor of surgery from 1953 to 1964. She was promoted to assistant professor of surgery from 1964 to 1965.

After her retirement from Women's College Hospital, Dr. Gray was appointed to the Medical Research Council of Canada. In 1973, she received a Civic Award of Merit from the former Toronto Mayor David Crombie for her career as a distinguished public servant.

Dr. Jessie Gray died in 1978. In her memory, her colleagues, patients and friends set up the Jessie Gray Memorial Fund which helped establish the Jessie Gray Colorectal Unit, a unit at Women's College Hospital for the early detection of cancer of the colon and rectum.

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