Skip Navigation Celebrating America's Women Physicians
Changing the face of Medicine Home Physicians
Resources Activities



Dr. Mary Margaret Kemeny

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1946

Medical School

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons


New York

Career Path

Surgery: Oncology
Education: Teaching
Surgery: Thoracic
Dr. Mary Margaret Kemeny


Margaret Kemeny, M.D., was the first woman admitted to the surgical specialty at Columbia University since World War II, and became one of fewer than two dozen women surgical oncologists in the United States.
Margaret Kemeny, M.D., developed a technique to administer chemotherapy directly into the main artery of the liver.
Queens Hospital Center named Margaret Kemeny, M.D., the first director of its new Cancer Center of Excellence.


I think my mother most influenced my decision to become a doctor - she was a physician and she loved her job. Her office was in our house and my sister (who is also a physician) and I would be able to see her even during office hours so we did not feel neglected by her. I also felt it was normal that every mother should work, which was quite different than the mothers of my classmates. She felt very strongly that a woman should have a career and that medicine was the best career a person could have because it was interesting and helped people at the same time. She strongly encouraged both of us to become doctors and we both complied.


Surgical oncologist M. Margaret Kemeny, M. D., is director of New York's Cancer Center of Excellence at Queens Hospital Center and professor of surgery at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Through her clinical and laboratory research, Dr. Kemeny has developed techniques to deliver chemotherapy to the liver through an arterial pump. Her research has also focused on treating of colon cancer with perioperative chemotherapy and on including the elderly in clinical trials.

Margaret Kemeny was born in New Jersey in 1946. Her mother, a physician, encouraged both her daughters to pursue medicine. For Margaret Kemeny, the path led through undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where she graduated cum laude in 1968 and went on to study medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. Receiving her M.D. in 1972, she completed her internship and residencies at New York Presbyterian Hospital, the University of Colorado Medical Center, and New York's Downstate Medical Center. When she was accepted into Columbia's surgical program in 1972, she was the first woman admitted to the specialty since World War II. "The atmosphere was extremely hostile and after nine months I was told that I had been cut from the program," Dr. Kemeny recalled. Dr. Kemeny served fellowships in tumor oncology and thoracic surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She was later clinical associate of the surgical branch of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr. Kemeny began practice as senior surgeon at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California, in 1981. She returned to New York in 1986 to become chief of surgical oncology at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center and associate professor of surgery at New York Medical College. In 1993 she was named chief of surgical oncology at North Shore University Hospital-New York University, where she served until 1998. That year she was named chief of surgical oncology and professor of surgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 2002 she was recruited to become the first director of the Queens Cancer Center.

Dr. Kemeny served as president of the Association of Women Surgeons from 1997 to 1998, and became a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons in 2002. Widely published, she also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the American Journal of Surgery, and HPB Surgery: A World Journal of Hepatic, Pancreatic and Billiary Surgery. She is listed as one of the leading surgeons in the Castle Connolly Guide Top Doctors: New York Metro Area as well as in New York Magazine's yearly publication "How to Find the Best Doctors in New York." Dr. Kemeny was recognized as Teacher of the Year at North Shore University Hospital in 1998 and by the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 2000.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

The biggest obstacle to my becoming a surgeon was definitely being a woman. In the early seventies when I finished medical school very few women went into surgery and there was no support for women in surgery. The women's movement was just beginning and we had to make our own support system. Several of the surgeons at medical school tried to dissuade me from going into surgery. When I was accepted to the surgical program at my medical school I was the first woman in the program since World War II. The atmosphere was extremely hostile and after nine months I was told that I had been cut from the program, which meant I had to find another program to try to complete my training. The rest of my career in surgery has been similar to its beginnings. It is still very difficult for women in this field but the numbers are increasing and organizations such as the Association of Women Surgeons are giving women a stronger voice.

How do I make a difference?

I think I make the biggest difference in two ways: first by being a role model and mentor for other women who want to go into surgery, or who are already in surgery. The existence of mentors makes the atmosphere in surgery much more hospitable to women. Secondly, I give hope to patients who have cancer by providing them new treatments and by giving them the emotional support they need. Also I am now part of a project to bring state-of-the-art cancer care to the underserved people of New York City.

Who was my mentor?

I never had a mentor in surgery and that was a great hardship that no one should endure. However my mother was my mentor in medicine, and I could not ask for a stronger mentor than she was.

How has my career evolved over time?

I have lived to see a change in surgery. Even though it is small, there is enough of a chink in the armor to see that there will be further change in the future and women will be able to enter surgery and advance in surgery on an equal footing with men. In my career, I have gotten to some of the highest levels, in that I am a full professor and I have been accepted into the American Surgical Association, one of twenty-two women in that exclusive club. Even though I still do surgery, I am now also doing much more administration and dealing with public health issues that represent new and exciting challenges for me.