Washington University School of Medicine-St. Louis
Becker Medical Library
Women in Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine

Jessie Lamoin Ternberg
Jessie L. Ternberg
“As a surgeon extraordinaire, Ternberg became a role model for students and residents.”

Jessie Lamoin Ternberg was born May 28, 1924 in Corning, California. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College (1946), a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Texas (1950) and her medical degree from Washington University (1953). Following a medical internship at Boston City Hospital, she returned to St. Louis for a surgery residency at Barnes Hospital.

Her research focused on the application of electron spin resonance spectrometry in the investigation of pathological processes. Other interests included the formation of neo-mucosa of the intestine and nutritional aspects of short gut.

Ternberg was appointed instructor in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in 1959, assistant professor in 1962, associate professor in 1965 and professor of surgery in 1971. She served as chief of the division of pediatric surgery in 1972. In 1996 she became professor emerita.

Among her many recognitions are the Grinnell College Alumni Award, the Washington University School of Medicine Faculty/Alumni award, the first Aphrodite Jannopoulo Hofsommer Award and the Horatio Alger Award.


Passion, persistence and independence led Jessie Lamoin Ternberg to open new doors for women in medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. Ternberg is a woman of many firsts: In 1954, she became the first woman surgical resident at Barnes Hospital, in 1958, the first woman chief resident and subsequently, the first woman surgeon at the School of Medicine.

“Over the course of her career, she has been a dedicated doctor, a great mentor, and a true leader.”

Ternberg describes beginning her surgical residency and being told, “There are no women in surgery!” Quickly, the erroneous gender interpretation of “Jessie” became apparent. So, too, did the lack of accommodations for a woman resident. Ternberg ended up in student nursing housing. Owing to the nurse’s curfew, she was frequently locked out because of her heavy call schedule. Many a night she slept on a gurney in the recovery room.

As a surgeon extraordinaire, Ternberg became a role model for generations of students and residents. The patient always came first, and each procedure was a work of art. Ternberg told students that “surgeons must have the eye of a eagle, the heart of a lion, and the hand of a lady.”

“Jessie Ternberg was a pioneer in pediatric surgery – and a great role model for women in medicine.”

Ternberg attributes part of her success to being able to “go with the wave like a body surfer.” She also credits various mentors for encouragement and guidance. Ternberg’s advice for women in medicine today is “Go for it.” As a pioneering woman in medicine, Ternberg is an exemplary role model to follow.