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



Dr. Kathryn Dorothy Duncan Anderson

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1939

Medical School

Harvard Medical School


District of Columbia

Career Path

Surgery: Pediatric
Dr. Kathryn Dorothy Duncan Anderson


When Dr. Kathryn D. Anderson was made secretary of the American College of Surgeons, she was the first woman officer of that organization.
Dr. Kathryn D. Anderson was the first woman to be elected president of the American Pediatric Surgery Association.


I wanted to be a surgeon from being about 8 years old; I don't know why because I had no role models, as a child, in medicine. My father was a great influence. He believed his lack of education held him back, and he was determined his children would not be restricted in whatever they wanted to do.


When Kathryn D. Anderson applied for a surgical residency at Harvard Medical School in 1964, she was told that women were too weak to be surgeons. Dr. Anderson has since gone on to became a pediatric surgeon of international renown. In 1992, she was made chief of surgery and vice president of surgery at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and in 2000, she became the first woman president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

Born in Lancashire, England, in 1939, Kathryn Dorothy Duncan knew she wanted to be a surgeon from the age of 8. Though there were few women surgeons at that time, she was encouraged by the support of her parents. She began her medical studies at Cambridge University in 1958, receiving both bachelor and master of arts degrees with honors. She met her husband, an American studying at the university, in an anatomy class there. Kathryn Dorothy Duncan and French Anderson married in 1962 and moved to the United States.

Kathryn Anderson completed her doctor of medicine degree at Harvard Medical School in 1964. When the dean refused her a surgical internship, she went to Boston Children's Hospital to complete an internship in pediatric medicine.

In 1965, Dr. Anderson moved to Washington, D.C., and completed a general surgical residency at Georgetown University Hospital. She was only assigned seven cases over two years, and left believeing that gender discrimination was affecting her training. In the community hospitals that she went on to, she was able to participate in more than 700 cases over the next twelve months. Her experiences revitalized her interest in surgery and so in 1970 Dr. Anderson joined Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for a two-year fellowship in pediatric surgery. She has since risen through the ranks to full professor at George Washington University and vice chair, then acting chair, of the department of surgery at Children's National Medical Center. In 1992, Dr. Anderson was named surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles. She is also vice president of surgery with a concurrent appointment as professor of surgery at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Anderson advocates an honest approach to pediatric medicine, especially when dealing with a patient's family. "No physician," she observes, "can be schooled in giving parents bad news about their child...Sympathy and empathy come across more effectively than knowledge obtained in any class."

As secretary of the American College of Surgeons since 1992, Dr. Kathryn Anderson is the first woman to hold an office in that organization. Dr. Anderson was also one of the first two women members of the Board of Governors. She was chair of the surgery section of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1985 and 1986, and president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association from 1999 to 2000. Since 1986, Dr. Anderson has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, and several other surgical and medical journals.

In 1995 Dr. Anderson received the Nina Starr Braunwald Award from the Association of Women Surgeons, and in 1999, she was honored with a lifetime fellowship in England's Royal College of Surgeons for her service to the field of surgery.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I believe my greatest obstacle was my gender.

How do I make a difference?

I make a difference by compassionate, skilled care to children with complex surgical problems. I run a training program in pediatric surgery. I am totally committed to pediatric surgery and have enthusiastically mentored young people who are in surgical training or who want to be surgeons many are women but some are also young men.

Who was my mentor?

At the university of Cambridge, my mentor was Dorothy Heard, M.D., director of medical studies. As a fellow and a pediatric surgeon, my mentor was W. Hardy Hendren, M.D., emeritus chief of surgery at Boston Children's Hospital.

How has my career evolved over time?

I have gone through the academic ranks to full professor with tenure, and chief of surgery at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. My service in surgery has involved multiple roles in the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics Surgical Section, and the American Pediatric Surgical Association. I have also mentored many young men and women in medical school and surgical residency.

Photo Gallery