Dr. Rowena Spencer will celebrate her 90th birthday on July 3, 2012. She was one of the first women in the country to specialize in pediatric surgery, which she practiced in New Orleans from 1953 to 1984. She then devoted a decade to research on conjoined twins, producing a substantial medical text.
In 1947, she received an M.D. from Johns Hopkins, where she was also the first woman surgical intern. She pursued additional training in surgery and pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Tulane and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Charles A. Fishkin, a former patient of Dr. Spencer, talks with her about her life and career.
What has been the most satisfying part of your work?
Holding the babies. I love babies more than a mule can kick.
What would you like to be remembered for?
That I have been able to convince people that pediatric surgery is a necessary and viable specialty.
On the field of pediatric surgery:
I enjoyed every minute of surgery. I love the field. I loved taking care of babies.
On communicating with babies:
They know a great deal more than you think they do. They know you are talking to them. They may not know whether its whales or snails, but they know you are communicating with them.
Advice for young people:
Don’t be discouraged. Don’t quit. Keep going.
On her father, Dr. Lewis Cass Spencer:
He and I were soul mates. We both loved the country. We both ended up loving surgery. We had a great deal in common. We both loved each other very dearly. I just adored him.
I happened to be hard-headed and stubborn, and I don’t let anything stand in my way if it’s humanly possible. I have strong opinions about things.
I am getting old, but I am not there yet. I don’t fret about it. I just let it do what it’s going to do.
On her life:
It has been interesting without question. It’s been a pretty good handful. I’m still working on it.
Copyright 2012. Charles A. Fishkin and Rowena Spencer. All Rights Reserved.