Featured Thoracic Surgeons: Monthly Features

Today’s Women in CT Surgery

Here we will feature women who represent the wide breadth of practicing thoracic surgeons in our field today.  We look forward to highlighting new women on a monthly basis, showing the great strides in patient care, research, humanitarian work, patient advocacy, and leadership being accomplished by women in our field.  We take pride in showcasing the fantastic women in CT Surgery, setting phenomenal examples both in and out of the operating room.

This month’s featured surgeons:

Drs Jane Yanagawa and Leah Backhus 

Jane Yanagawa, MD

“Being a teacher has turned out to be perhaps my favorite part of the job. Whether you’re teaching a medical student, a fellow, a patient, a colleague, taking on that role shapes your own image as well as the way your entire field is perceived. Also, introducing thoracic surgery – the complexity, how dynamic it is, how intensely meaningful it can be – to someone who had no idea what it was about is just a really fun and rewarding experience. Whether or not a trainee decides to go into thoracic surgery, pretty much everyone agrees it’s amazing.”

Dr. Yanagawa is a thoracic surgeon at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and she is as passionate about teaching as she is about operating, as exemplified in her comment above! She completed her residency at UCSD and her fellowship in Thoracic Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 2011-2013. She is a delight, and she is well loved by all who have the privilege of interacting with her.

Her nomination from Dr. Lauren Kane reads:

“Dr. Jane Yanagawa is an accomplished Thoracic Surgeon at the University of California and very active in all aspects of care for her patients. I was lucky enough to co-chair scholarships with the Women in Thoracic Surgery with her, where I got to know her better. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She is so smart, an absolute pleasure to work with and spend time with at social events. She is a great role model for young surgeons looking to go into Thoracic Surgery. She is a great friend and colleague who will do great things! Worth learning more about her.”

Dr Yanagawa operating

Dr Yanagawa and her mother

Leah Backhus, MD

“I believe I have the absolute best job in the world.  Thoracic Surgery is mentally and physically challenging and incredibly rewarding.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to play a role in healing others by shining a light in an otherwise dark place.  Facing a diagnosis of lung or esophageal cancer can be a frightening prospect.  Patients are at their most vulnerable and it never ceases to amaze me how our medical profession often fails to shepherd them through the gauntlet of diagnosis and treatment in the best way.  Many feel lost or ill-prepared for what lies ahead.  I think this is one of the most important things we do as thoracic surgeons is to impart knowledge and clarify the road ahead in addition to the surgical treatment.  We alleviate fears and guide them through the process and if we have the ultimate luxury of practicing in an academic medical center, we have the distinct honor of teaching the next generation of thoracic surgeons to do the same.  As an African American female Thoracic Surgeon, one can feel a bit like a pink unicorn, but my hope is that over time, this forest of surgery will have a huge population of “unicorns” who are all thriving!”

Dr. Backhus is a true superstar in our field, well-respected by colleagues, adored by patients, and loved by her family at home.  She is a thoracic surgeon at Stanford University and the Chief of Thoracic at the Palo Alto VA Hospital.  She holds a number of leadership roles throughout academic thoracic surgery, and she is a fantastic mom, to top it off.  She is a tremendous role model for any who aspire to join our field.  As eloquently stated in her nomination, “Dr. Leah Backhus is someone we should all aspire to be like.”  Without a doubt, she is a phenomenal example of what we’d all like to become.

Her nomination continues:

“She is so impressive and a great role model for surgeons wanting a career in Thoracic Surgery. She has a successful practice at Stanford University and wears many hats, such as, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the VA Palo Alto, Chair of Task Group for Lung Cancer in Women, Associate Director of Thoracic track residency, and Vice Chair of Thoracic Surgery Residency Review Committee. She excels in teaching, research, surgery and life. She is fun to be around, great personality, outgoing and wicked smart. She has two beautiful children and a great husband and manages to make career and family look effortless. I am privileged to call her my friend and colleague.”

Dr. Backhus operating

Dr Backhus and her husband

Dr. Backhus in the OR


For our full list of Past Features, click here.

If you’d like to submit a nomination for a surgeon feature, you can do so below or at this link.

Featured Surgeon Nomination Form

Please use this form to nominate women thoracic surgeons for a feature on the WTS website. Qualified nominees may be practicing surgeons in adult cardiac, congenital cardiac, or general thoracic surgery. Your nominations are greatly appreciated!