Olga Jonasson, MD, FACS, served as the Medical Director of what was formerly the Education and Surgical Services Department of the American College of Surgeons, from the time the department was established in 1993. She was the first female surgeon to hold a high level staff position within the College’s Executive Staff.
Dr. Jonasson studied under Warren Cole, MD, FACS, at the University of Illinois (U of I) College of Medicine and eventually became a pioneer in kidney transplant surgery. She began teaching surgery at the U of I College of Medicine in 1963 and established the division of transplantation at the University in 1968. She was appointed chairman of the department of surgery at Cook County Hospital in 1977, the first woman to head the surgical section of a major medical facility. Prior to joining the staff of the College, she was Chair of Ohio State University’s department of surgery (1987-93); where she was the first woman to chair an academic surgery department in the United States.
Born in Peoria, IL, to Swedish immigrant parents, Dr. Jonasson grew up in Chicago accompanying her clergyman father on his visits to sick parishioners. It was during the course of these visits that she became interested in medicine. She never felt discriminated against as a woman in medicine. She prefaced an article about women in surgery with a quote from another woman, Charlotte Whitton*: “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” But Dr. Jonasson recognized that surgery is an extremely time-consuming field; many women of her generation were unable to sacrifice their personal lives and family time to work the long hours required for such a career.
Among the many honors and awards she earned for excellence in surgery and in teaching is honorary membership in the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
*Charlotte Whitton, former mayor of Ottawa. Special edition on women. Time 1990.
- Coulombe, Donna, “Dr. Jonasson,” attachment to e-mail to C. Rollins Hanlon, Aug. 7, 2007.
- Kemeny MM. “Jonasson, Braunwald, and Morani: Three firsts in American surgery,” Arch Surg. 1993; 128(6):643-644.
- Van J. “Top surgeon, teacher: It’s a ‘wonderful’ life,” Chicago Tribune. January 7, 1981.
- VarroB. “A reticent master of surgery,” Chicago Sun-Times. December 14, 1977.
ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.