Women of UCLA Health: Trailblazers in health care, medicine and science

UCLA Health article

March is Women’s History Month, which “honors and celebrates the struggles and achievements of American women throughout the history of the United States.” We take this opportunity to recognize the many contributions women have made to the fabric of our nation, including in the fields of medicine and science.

This observance traces its roots to 1981, when Congress passed a resolution requesting that President Ronald Reagan proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” Five years later, the event was expanded to a month-long commemoration, which has been celebrated since.

At UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine, we join in this national tradition, paying tribute to the unwavering determination and achievements of women, who, through their work, have set an inspirational example. A few – among the many incredible women at UCLA – include:

Johnese Spisso, MPA, is the first woman to hold the positions of president of UCLA Health, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences. In 2019, she was named as one of the top-25 women leaders in health care and a “Health Care Leader to Know” by Becker’s Hospital Review in 2017.

Kelsey Martin, MD, PhD

Kelsey Martin, MD, PhD, is the first female dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dr. Martin is among only a handful of women to lead a medical school in the United States. She was elected as a member to the National Academy of Medicine in 2016 and appointed to the state’s Precision Medicine Advisory Committee in 2017.


Linda Liau, MD, PhD, a scientist in UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and chair of the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, was elected as a member to the National Academy of Medicine in October, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. Dr. Liau also was elected chair of American Board of Neurological Surgery; she is the first woman to chair the organization in its 80-year history.

Susan Bookheimer, PhD, who teaches in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is the first woman to receive the Glass Brain Award, a lifetime achievement award from the Organization of Human Brain Mapping. Dr. Bookheimer also serves as the director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Anne Coleman, MD, PhD
Anne Coleman, MD, PhD, also a member of the National Academy of Medicine, was recently elected President Elect of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. She is only the fourth woman to hold this position in an organization with more than 30,000 members, including 90 percent of U.S. ophthalmologists and more than 7,000 international members.
Deborah Krakow, MD
Deborah Krakow, MD, chair of the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was named a 2018 “Top Doctor” by Los Angeles Magazine and delivered a seminal address to the National Academy of Sciences Symposium on the 2018 NAS Report on Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Janet Pregler, MD

Janet Pregler, MD, director of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center, was named one of 2017's “Women of the Year” by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. She was nominated for the community-at-large award by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s Health.

Sherin U. Devaskar, MD

Sherin U. Devaskar, MD, physician-in-chief of UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and a member of the National Academy of Medicine, was recently appointed as president of the Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs.

Karol Watson, MD, PhD
Karol Watson, MD, PhD, is an attending cardiologist at UCLA Health and professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. In 2017, Dr. Watson, was named the Elliot Rapaport Cardiologist of the Year by the California chapter of the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Watson serves as director of the UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Center, the UCLA-Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program and the UCLA Fellowship Program in cardiovascular diseases. She also serves as co-director of the UCLA Program in Preventive Cardiology. She is Chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Board for Womenheart, the largest national organization for women survivors of heart disease.
Gay Crooks, MBBS

Gay Crooks, MBBS, is a UCLA professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of pediatrics and co-director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research at UCLA. Her work in the field of stem-cell research has improved treatments for a variety of blood diseases, including leukemias. In January 2019, Dr. Crooks and her team published the first study demonstrating a technique for coaxing pluripotent stem cells into becoming mature T cells capable of killing tumor cells.

Desert Horse-Grant

Desert Horse-Grant, senior director of research and innovation at UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was recognized as a “Woman of Business Honoree” in 2018 for her influence in and contributions to health care research and innovations.

Kathleen Brown, MD

Kathleen Brown, MD, assistant dean for equity and inclusion at the David Geffen School of Medicine and section chief of thoracic imaging, serves as the vice chair of the UCLA College of Applied Anatomy. She is the recipient of multiple teaching awards including the Excellence in Education Award and the Serge and Yvette Dadone Clinical Teaching Award.

Melissa Reider-Demer

Melissa Reider-Demer, PhD, a nurse practitioner at UCLA Health, received the 2018 “Nurse of the Year” award by Press Ganey for her commitment to the betterment of patients and the organization."

Patricia Ganz, MD
Patricia Ganz, MD, is a professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; she also serves as the director the Center for Cancer Prevention & Control Research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Ganz, a founding member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, has been a pioneer in the field of oncology, particularly in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. In 2017, Dr. Ganz was named editor-in-chief of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, one of the oldest and most internationally respected oncology journals in the world.
Judith Currier, MD,

Judith Currier, MD, chief of the UCLA Division of Infectious Diseases, was named chair of the National Institutes of Health-funded AIDS Clinical Trials Group in 2018; the Group represents the largest clinical trials network focused on HIV.

Maie St. John, MD, PhD

Maie St. John, MD, PhD, chair of the UCLA Department of Head and Neck Surgery, has received numerous honors for her work as a physician and scientist, including the Head and Neck Triological Society Honor Award, the Most Outstanding Head & Neck Surgery Faculty Award, the EAO Young Leadership Award and the Los Angeles “Superdoctor” in otolaryngology by Los Angeles Magazine.

Gail Wyatt, PhD
Gail Wyatt, PhD, is a UCLA clinical psychologist at Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA and director of the Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. Dr. Wyatt has received numerous awards and honors for her scientific accomplishments, mentoring and teaching. Dr. Wyatt has testified before the U.S. Congress eight times on issues related to health policy and was the first African-American woman to be licensed as a psychologist in the state of California.
Valencia Walker, MD

Valencia Walker, MD, assistant dean for equity and inclusion at the David Geffen School of Medicine and medical director of the NICU at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, serves as a chairperson for California Medical Association’s Council on Legislation. Dr. Walker is the recipient of numerous awards including the DGSOM Outstanding PBL Tutor Award, a Congressional Certificate of Recognition from U.S. Representative Karen Bass, and the Physician Diversity and Outstanding Community Service Award from the California Shriners.

Susan Smalley, PhD

Susan Smalley, PhD, founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, was honored by the women’s rights organization Equality Now in 2018 for her research on the genetics of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mindfulness.

Carrie Bearden, PhD

Carrie Bearden, PhD, UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, was named to the scientific council of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in 2017. The foundation represents the nation’s top non-governmental funder of mental health research grants.

These are just some of the pioneering women at UCLA who contribute to our rich history of innovation and breakthroughs in health care, medicine and research. To all the women who inspire us: Thank you!

To learn more about influential women in UCLA history, visit Bruin Women Firsts.