Dermatologist recounts finding her niche in male-dominated field

July 1, 2010

Frances J. Storrs, M.D., tells it like it is, sees the humor in it, then laughs a hearty laugh. She was the first woman to complete the dermatology residency at Oregon Health and Science University, graduating in 1968. Now professor emerita of dermatology and director of the Dermatology Contact Clinic at Oregon Health and Science University, Dr. Storrs has undeniably earned respect in a specialty that early in her career was dominated by men.

Key Points

Frances J. Storrs, M.D., tells it like it is, sees the humor in it, then laughs a hearty laugh.

Interestingly, she says that it was men who tried to prevent her success - and also men who helped to ensure it.

A major turning point

Dr. Storrs is legendary for an incident that occurred more than 38 years ago. It might have crumbled others who experienced it, but Dr. Storrs says she is grateful to have been thrown out of a meeting of important physicians in Oregon - not because she did not qualify as "prominent," but rather because she was a woman, and the meeting was in a men-only club. The meeting featured a lecture by famed dermatologist Harvey Blank, M.D., and a formal dinner followed.

Escorted by friend and colleague Paul Russell, M.D., Dr. Storrs entered the club, but she felt an immediate chill. "About two minutes later, my boss came over and said, 'You have to leave right now. They're going to close down this party if you don't. We can't have a woman here, because it's against the rules of the club,'" she says.

Everything, she says, changed from that night on. "That was definitely my most singular life experience. I was not considered 'prominent' because I didn't have the right anatomy," Dr. Storrs says. "Before I went into the men's club, I was a right-wing conservative Republican, and when I came out, I wasn't."

Ironically, the very man who told Dr. Storrs that she would have to leave - the then-chairman of Oregon Health and Science University's dermatology department, Walter C. Lobitz Jr., M.D. - was the one who groomed her career. Dr. Lobitz, she says, was the ultimate mentor.

"Dr. Lobitz really looked out for my career. He made sure that I was able to meet all the people I needed to meet and study with the people I needed to learn from," she says. "He was a person who really understood how to influence the lives of people in academic medicine."