Colleagues described Lila A. Wallis, M.D., as "the godmother of women's health." She instituted a range of initiatives to improve patients' experiences during physical examinations. For half a century, she was a leading advocate for women's rights to high standards of compassionate care and a partnership role in decisions about their treatment.
Lila Amdurska was still a student at the University of Stefan Batory in Vilnius, Lithuania, when the German Army invaded and occupied her homeland in 1939. As a member of the Polish underground resistance movement during World War II, she secretly cared for members of the underground at a relative's country home, teaching Polish to local children when the Germans closed the schools. The realities of war convinced her of the value of medicine as a career choice.
Later, as a young doctor in the United States, Dr. Wallis came under the influence of two other women medical pioneers. Dr. Connie Guion, the first woman to be named a clinical professor of medicine at Cornell, offered her encouragement and referred patients to her. Dr. May Edward Chinn, the first African-American woman to complete a residency at Bellevue Hospital, and the first woman intern at Harlem Hospital, taught Dr. Wallis the art of the competent and painless pelvic exam.
Dr. Wallis was an authority on osteoporosis, estrogen replacement therapy, and menopause. She was the first physician in the United States to hold board certifications in internal medicine, hematology, and endocrinology, and metabolism. As a gifted educator, she instituted the "Update Your Medicine" program at Cornell in 1974, one of the first, and now the longest-running and most successful continuing medical education programs in the United States. In 1979, she created the Teaching Associates Program at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center (which she also directed for eleven years). This program enlisted the help of volunteer patients to provide feedback to medical students as they developed more sensitive and painless methods for conducting examinations of the breast, genital, and rectal areas.
Dr. Wallis also served on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association from 1980 to 1992, and on the Journal of Women's Health from 1992 to present. She was also on the editorial boards of Rodale Books on Women's Health from 1993 on, and both Women's Health Access and the National Academy on Women's Health Medical Education from 1994 on.
Dr. Wallis published two key books that bring a comprehensive view to female patient care: Textbook of Women's Health, published in 1998, and The Whole Woman: Take Charge of Your Health in Every Phase of Your Life, which she co-authored with Marian Betancourt in 1999. She appeared on national television on Good Morning America, Today, CNN News, NPR's Talk of the Nation, and World News with Peter Jennings. She spoke at more than one hundred programs before medical and non-medical audiences.
Dr. Wallis had a vision for the future of women's health care. It included an end to fragmented care for women, in which comprehensive exams would routinely include breast and pelvic exams, Pap smears, and specific tests at every stage of a woman's life. Dr. Wallis spent her career working to inspire and equip women to negotiate for better health care. "I hope...you [will] stand up for yourself and demand what is your right to receive an equitable share of this country's health resources and be a full partner in your health care."