Hail to the Chief: Dr. Mary Hawn

The Halsted Society

February 3, 2021

This article is part of a series of interviews with Stanford Surgery faculty who were, are, or will be presidents of surgical societies. Dr. Mary Hawn is Chair of the Department of Surgery at Stanford University. Prior to being President-Elect of the Halsted Society, she was President of the Alabama Chapter of the American College of Surgeons; this will be her first presidency of a national society.

Rachel Baker: The Halsted Society if very different from other professional surgical organizations. Can you give us a brief description? 

Mary Hawn: The Halsted Society is a fellowship society where you bring together surgeons whose common interest is academic surgery. Whereas other societies are particular to a surgical subspecialty like colorectal or vascular surgery, Halsted is agnostic to your surgical specialty. The main goals are about creating bonds nationally among surgical leaders across disciplines.

Each year different programs host the society and highlight what is special about their programs as well as their up and coming faculty. It allows the host school to introduce younger surgeons to leaders in their field. Halstedians are able to see how different departments are run, and we share thoughts and ideas.


RB: What do you hope to accomplish during your term?

MH: The main things the president participates in is helping to select future hosts for the annual meeting and admit new members. The president doesn’t really set the direction of who is admitted, the membership committee does that, but the president has a voice and influence over how we select the next leader. We also work closely with the host institution to select the venues and activities the Halsteadians will want to participate in.

I’m really proud that Stanford Surgery was able to host the Halstead in 2018. From the talks, to the parties to the venues, I think our department made an indelible impression on our members.

RB: Halsted has a Spouse Program. That seems…old fashioned?

MH: Yes, there are special activities that happen for the spouses while the surgeons are in the academic meetings. The rose from the traditional model was if someone had a career like a surgeon then it was two people working on one career; there is the surgeon and then there is someone else working to support that career. So, the Spouse Program was about being inclusive. Today the spouse probably also has a career and may even be another surgeon, but it’s held together by the spouses who make a point of coming year after year and the friendships that are made. Most of the Spouse programs have been about the arts, gardens, local natural beauty, restaurants and cooking; it depends on where we are. I would say that’s a challenge for Eben and me; we don’t usually participate in each other’s meetings – we’ll only go once every few years because something exceptional is happening, and we want to be there to support each other.

RB: You are also Chair of a surgical department. How do you make time for everything you need to do in a day?

MH: I have a lot of great help who do a lot of work on behalf of the department from our division managers and director of finance who manage the day-to-day financial decisions to the faculty who are running their programs.

One of the most interesting things about being a chair is how much time you spend outside of your department. That’s become even more apparent during COVID; I’ve gotten to know a lot more about PPE and now vaccines and beyond. That’s something I didn’t fully understand when I took this position was the amount of time you are asked to lead things that aren’t necessarily in your wheelhouse. In non-COVID times you also spend a lot of time outside of your institution, promoting surgery, promoting your programs, so you need a good team at home.

RB: Like most surgical societies, Halsted had a reputation to being an “old boys’ club.” Has the society tried to become more diverse and inclusive?

MH: I think there has been significant change over the last five years from the membership committee and leadership to create a more diverse and inclusive society. Halsted is like a secret society; you have to have a mentor who’s a member to even be aware of it much less get an invitation to join. We decided to look outside our usual suspects and really go after the most influential and extraordinary surgeons in the nation to join our society.

RB: You will be the only the second female president of the Halsted Society (the first was Dr. Wren) since the society’s inception in 1948. What advice do you have for other aspiring female leaders?

MH: I think, just like everything, it’s showing up, using your voice and your influence and doing the work. Good work gets elevated regardless of your gender or your race. Don’t be shy – go and introduce yourself to people and then nurture those relationships.