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Eureka surgeon receives CMA’s prestigious “country doctor” award



October 21, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Leadership Professional Development & Education 

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Renowned breast cancer researcher and surgeon Ellen Mahoney M.D., was honored today with the California Medical Association’s (CMA) most prestigious award, the Frederick K.M. Plessner Memorial Award. The award, which honors the California physician who best exemplifies the ethics and practice of a rural country practitioner, was announced today at CMA’s annual House of Delegates meeting in Anaheim.


The first of her family to graduate from college, Dr. Mahoney broke the glass ceiling by graduating from Stanford Medical School as one of the first woman general surgeons. After completing her residency—also at Stanford—she became the first woman ever to open a private surgical practice in Palo Alto. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Mahoney served on faculty at Stanford, where she performed general, trauma and oncology surgery.


Dr. Mahoney helped designed Stanford’s first comprehensive cancer center. In 1994, she opened Palo Alto’s Community Breast Health Project (now known as Bay Area Cancer Connections), which provides support and information to breast cancer patients.


Dr. Mahoney’s Community Breast Health Project harnessed the power of peer support, bringing together cancer survivors and those newly diagnosed or in treatment, providing compassionate support and access to current information to aid them on their cancer journey.


Colleagues describe Dr. Mahoney as incredibly generous with her time and knowledge, all in the service of providing the best and most up to date care for patients. She has a passion for solving problems and bringing together collaborators to design solutions.


In 2000, Dr. Mahoney “retired” to rural Humboldt County, where her husband, surgeon Luther Cobb, M.D., had joined the medical staff at Mad River Hospital. When she saw the acute cancer care deficits in this remote part of California, she had a vision for comprehensive cancer care for residents of Humboldt County so that they could get the same quality of care locally that they would get in Palo Alto.


Dr. Mahoney recognized that in a rural area, the psychosocial needs were perhaps even more acute; and the resources more diffuse. She has since committed her professional life to providing care to patients diagnosed with breast cancer and developing collaborative teams to ease the passage of patients through the complex web of medical care that often overwhelms one of our more vulnerable populations—those diagnosed with cancer. Today, she is the director of the Cancer Care Program at St. Joseph Hospital in Humboldt County.


Dr. Mahoney has also pursued a very ambitious international research program from her base in Humboldt County. She has collaborated with her colleagues at Stanford to create a joint videoconference tumor board. Under her leadership, the joint weekly tumor board has become a vibrant, standing-room only demonstration of collaboration and the constant search for each patient’s best possible care.


For more about Dr. Mahoney’s remarkable story, see the award video at www.youtube.com/cmaphysicians.


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