The late Jessie L. Ternberg, MD, PhD, was the first female surgical resident at Barnes Hospital, the first female surgeon on the medical school faculty and the first woman elected head of the medical school’s faculty council.

(See article in Washington University in St. Louis Magazine.)

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College in 1946, Ternberg received a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Texas in 1950. While completing her doctoral studies, Ternberg teamed with Robert Eakin, Ph.D., to report their discovery of the mechanism by which vitamin B-12 is absorbed in the intestine (B-12 deficiency leads to pernicious anemia).

After receiving a medical degree from Washington University in 1953, Ternberg completed an internship at Boston City Hospital, a research fellowship at Washington University and a surgery residency at Barnes Hospital. She joined the medical school faculty in 1959 as an instructor of surgery and was promoted to assistant professor in 1962 and to associate professor in 1965. In 1971, she was appointed professor of surgery and associate professor of surgery in pediatrics. She took a leading role in establishing the Division of Pediatric Surgery and was named its chief in 1972. Three years later, she was named professor of surgery in pediatrics.

She also continued her research at the medical school. In one study, she applied electron spin resonance spectrometry to the investigation of free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage the body. Her best-known publication was A Handbook of Pediatric Surgery, which became a standard reference work. The handbook emphasized that diseases take different forms in young people; therefore, children cannot be treated as if they were just small adults.

A nationally recognized pediatric surgeon, Ternberg received numerous awards that include the Washington University Alumni Award, the International Women’s Year Award for Health Care, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat Woman of Achievement Award and membership in Alpha Omega Alpha. In 1998, former pediatric surgical residents and colleagues established the Jessie L. Ternberg Award, to be given annually to a female medical school graduate who best exemplifies Ternberg’s “indomitable spirit of determination, perseverance and dedication to her patients.”

Surgery Chairman Timothy Eberlein, MD, Jessie Ternberg, MD, PhD, and Pediatric Surgery Chief Brad Warner, MD

2017 Ternberg Lecture

Pediatric Surgery Chief Brad Warner, MD; Ternberg lecturer Gail E. Besner, MD, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; and Surgery Chairman Timothy Eberlein, MD

2018 Ternberg Lecture

Pediatric Surgery Chief Brad Warner, MD; Ternberg lecturer N. Scott Adzick, MD, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and pediatric surgeon Jesse Vrecenak, MD

Recent Visiting Professors: 

  • Dr. Bradley M. Rodgers
  • Dr. Eric W. Fonkalsrud
  • Dr. Robert C. Shamberger
  • Dr. Jay L. Grosfeld
  • Dr. Alan Flake
  • Dr. Frederick Ryckman
  • Dr. Lawrence Moss
  • Dr. Thomas M. Krummel
  • Dr. Mary L. Brandt
  • Dr. Jacob C. Langer
  • Dr. Jessica J. Kandel
  • Dr. Charles Cox
  • Dr. Henri Ford
  • Dr. Gail Besner
  • Dr. N. Scott Adzick