A. Lois Scully M.D.
[Originally published in CPMC Foundation’s newsletter Prime Scene, March 2011]
Smoothing the Path for Women in Medicine
Although she has spent most of her life giving to other people, Dr. A. Lois Scully is eager to express her gratitude. She speaks of her nearly 50 years treating patients as a privilege, and of her efforts to increase women’s access to medical careers as a source of satisfaction. She is thankful to have been able “to spend as much time with my patients as they needed.”
Clearly Dr. Scully is more prone to see her life’s glass as half-full than as half-empty. (“No one in my family was a complainer,” she explains.) Perhaps this is what allowed her to surmount with good grace many of the barriers facing a woman in medicine when she graduated from Stanford Medical School in 1955.
Ingenuity Claims a Dream
Dr. Scully’s path to medical school was not as direct as such a path might be for a young woman today. Although she had been interested in medicine since eighth grade, her high-school and college counselors discouraged her from pursuing that interest because, as a female, she would encounter strong prejudice. So Dr. Scully achieved a master’s degree in medical technology, worked in a pathology lab and then taught microbiology at the University of Idaho before returning to her original dream of attending medical school.
Dr. Scully characteristically describes the Stanford School of Medicine as “a happy choice” for her training as an internist specializing in endocrinology and metabolic diseases. When she completed her residency at Stanford and her fellowship at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School of London, she established a private practice, continuing her association with Stanford and joining California Pacific Medical Center’s medical staff in 1958. (Stanford moved its medical school to Palo Alto in 1959.)
”Women Can Only Add to the Practice of Medicine”
Highly realistic and pragmatic about the professional world she was entering, Dr. Scully almost immediately set about smoothing the path for the women who might follow her into medicine. “There were four women in my medical school class,” she says, “and although it was clear no woman would easily advance to department chair or any state or national office in organized medicine, we could practice, and we could help each other.” In fact, Dr. Scully started in private practice by taking over the practice of a woman physician who was retiring, and she describes the small group of women physicians in San Francisco as “very welcoming” to a newcomer.
A long-time active member (and national president in 1979) of the American Women’s Medical Association that was founded “among other reasons, because women were being ignored in the AMA,” Dr. Scully sees herself as very much an advocate for women in the profession. “Women are natural doctors,” she says, “because they have always done so much of the hands-on care in families. And of course they have all of the other necessary equipment — the intellectual capacity, the endurance, the strength and the compassion that being a doctor requires. Women can only add to the practice of medicine.”
Gratitude to CPMC for Supporting Her Work
In addition to a private practice that was vitally supported by her affiliation with California Pacific, Dr. Scully was on the clinical faculty as a professor at UCSF, where she worked on thyroid and other endocrine diseases and became president of the Association of Clinical Faculty. She also extended the reach of her work on behalf of women in the profession by chairing the Stanford Medical Alumni Association.
Retired since 2005, Dr. Scully appreciates having a flexible schedule that allows her to “just dive in” to one of her many interests. But she also still keeps up with developments in her medical field by reading the New England Journal of Medicine (“although perhaps not as thoroughly as I used to”) and attending grand rounds at CPMC, as well as presentations for CPMC alumni physicians.
And she is still giving back to the Medical Center that gave her, as she puts it, “so much support for my work” by naming CPMC in her will. “I’m at the time of life when we need to make such plans,” she says, “and I know what it takes to keep a hospital running and to provide all of the many kinds of support physicians need to care for their patients.”