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Harvard to honor Queens Hospital physician

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For the last seven years Dr. M. Margaret Kemeny has worked to help low-income Queens residents gain access to top-notch cancer treatment at the Queens Hospital's Queens Cancer Center.

Although her work and outreach saved the lives of countless patients, Kemeny said she is most proud of her work in changing the demographics of women in the American medical field .

"When I entered medical school, only 10 percent [of students] were women in schools across the nation," said Kemeny who graduated from Columbia Medical School in 1972. "Today there are a lot more and it's growing."

The doctor will be honored the Friday at Harvard University's Radcliffe College, where she earned her bachelor's degree, for her pioneering advocacy work.

Kemeny, who helped create the Association of Women's Surgeons and was the first female member of her medical school's admission's board, is set to receive the 2008 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Alumnae Award and give a speech at the school's award symposium. The surgeon said she was grateful for the honor.

"I think in general people take some inspiration from having done something and I think I have led the way for women in surgery," she said.

Kemeny's advocacy began when she was in college and saw that she was one of the few female students who were able to make it to levels of higher learning at the best medical institutions in the country. When she attended Columbia, she immediately went to work, constantly urging the school's administrators to make changes.

"At Columbia, I helped organize the women and broke the quota system," she said.

Her work has paid off. Close to half the medical school's student body today is female, according to Kemeny.

While she was fighting for change, she focused her studies on surgical oncology, or cancer surgery. Kemeny said she was most interested in the field because of the sense of gratification she felt helping patients.

"Where as internal medicine you give a medicine and wait to see if it works, with surgery you take something out and you see the results immediately," she said.

Physicians across the world praised the doctor for her work and research that has led to the creation of new types of cancer treatments, including a technique for treating liver cancer patients that involves administering chemotherapy through a pump delivered into the organ's main artery.

Kemeny had served as an administrator at Saint Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center in Manhattan, North Shore Hospital in Long Island and Stony Brook Medical Center before being asked by Queens Hospital to help create its new cancer center in 2001.

The physician, who is also a full-time professor at Mt. Sinai medical school, accepted the position because she said there were no facilities for non-insured patients to seek treatment for cancer in the city, and for her that was a problem.

"Everybody deserves very good medical care especially when they have cancer, because it can depend on the outcome," she said.

The center has grown tremendously under Kemeny's watch, becoming the only comprehensive cancer center in the city's public hospital system. Despite all of the hats she wears, the doctor said she has no plans slowing down in her causes.

"To me they are all important missions," she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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