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2014-03-28 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


March 28, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Retired Clearwater surgeon cut through ‘glass ceilings’

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Dr. Zena Lansky Dr. Zena Lansky When Dr. Zena Lansky was assigned to assist in a thyroidectomy during her residency at Belleview Hospital in New York, the male doctor who was performing the procedure on his patient got so angry that a woman surgeon was allowed in the operating room that he walked out – telling Lansky to finish the job.

Today, such a blatant display of prejudice would be condemned, but when Lansky was battling to establish herself as a general surgeon, it was just one of many “glass ceilings” she shattered along the way.

Lansky, who lives in Clearwater, is one of four women – and the only one from the Tampa Bay area – who will be honored April 27 at Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU’s 18th Annual Breaking the Glass Ceiling Awards ceremony at the museum in Miami. Beach.

The other award recipients are Iris Acker of Hallandale, who made her mark in the radio and television production field; Melissa Fronstin of Fort Lauderdale, a forerunner in the sports arena management business; and Susan D. Kronick of Miami, who has held high-profile positions in retail management.

The award reception and ceremony will feature presentations made by the honorees, describing the obstacles they encountered on their individual journeys to success.

Lansky is a retired surgeon, nutritionist, and entrepreneur who had a distinguished career as a surgeon for more than 40 years.

Her path to her chosen profession was not an easy one.

“Oh my God, in my day only 5 percent of doctors were female and only one or two women got into a medical school class per year,” she said, adding that very few women at the time became surgeons.

Lansky grew up in Philadelphia and in 1967 was the first woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She then became first female surgical resident at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, where she rose to become its first female chief surgical resident, in spite of resistance.

“General surgery is something women did not do. I went to Belleview in New York City and they tried to get rid of me. I was the first to survive. They really did not want me ... But I was so persistent. It was pretty bad,” she said, adding, “Things have changed there” since those days.

Now, women make up half of all students in medical schools, and women surgeons are in demand, Lansky said.

Having grown up in cold weather, she decided that once she completed her residency, she would move to a warmer climate – Florida or California – and in the early ’70s moved to Clearwater and became the first female surgeon at Morton Plant Hospital and its first female surgeon to be named chief of surgery; the first female member on Plant Hospital’s medical executive committee and the first female general surgeon in Florida.

Lansky said it was difficult starting her own practice in Clearwater, but two trauma cases she handled early after her arrival at Morton Plant led to others there accepting her. In one case a badly injured man was taken to the hospital and she refused to quit on him after some others gave up. She wound up saving the man’s life.

In another case, she said, “A girl stabbed herself in the heart. I opened her chest in the ER and put my finger in the hole in her heart to stop the bleeding. By the time they got a chest surgeon to the hospital, I already had moved her to the operating room, closed the hole in her heart, put a chest tube in and closed the incision.” Lansky said when the chest surgeon arrived he looked at what she had done and commented to others, “What do you want me to do, She has done it.”

Just getting a start after medical school was not easy. They gave her a hard time at Belleview, but at least she got in there. Prior to that she applied for a residency at a hospital in the Bronx and was told there were no vacancies, but another intern she was dating then applied and was accepted. When she asked hospital officials why she was not accepted, they told her they just could not see awarding a residency to a woman.

In another instance, officials at a hospital asked if she was Jewish and she asked what that had to do with her qualifications. The hospital did not accept her.

While acknowledging that it was tough to make it in a male dominated profession, she said, “I think people are individuals and if you have the intelligence and work hard enough, I think you will get there.”

Lansky’s career highlights include establishing a nationally recognized patient nutrition program and developing the “G” Tube, a device that allows a pump to add liquid food directly into the stomach. This device alone is credited with keeping tens of thousands of nutritionally challenged people around the world alive.

In addition to her medical career, Lansky has made significant contributions to organizations in the Tampa Bay area. She and her husband, Warren Rodgers, are co-founders of the Annual Not for Profit Workshop, the largest nonprofit educational event in the state. The workshop includes issues such as publicity and marketing, grant writing and planned giving. They are also involved in a variety of other non-profit organizations and supporters of the arts.

Lansky is a member of the Florida Holocaust Museum’s Leadership Council, and served as the Pinellas chair of a performing arts mission to Israel in 2012, sponsored by the Tampa Orlando Pinellas Jewish Federation Alliance, although she was unable to go on the trip. She and her husband received the Jewish National Fund’s Tree of Life Award last year for their community involvement and dedication to the cause of American Israeli friendship.

The Breaking the Glass Ceiling Awards Ceremony begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 27 at the museum, 310 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Cost is $15 for JMOF-FIU members, $20 for non-members and $5 for students. RSVP by calling (786) 972-3175, emailing or visiting

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