BY WALTER OPINDE
LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. is a leading oncology surgeon and educator. As a doctor, he believes that the role of the medical school teacher is to “instruct, inspire, stimulate, develop talent, raise aspirations, and stretch the imagination.” He encourages his students to “strive for excellence and avoid using race as an excuse for any lack of success.”
Born and raised in the then-segregated Florida, LaSalle was strongly influenced by well-educated parents who encouraged his academic pursuits and emphasized “education as the great equalizer.” Upon his graduation from high school at the age of 15 years, LaSalle knew his chances of admission at a predominantly white university was near impossible. Therefore, he decided to attend historically black Florida A&M University and graduated summa cum laude in 1948 at the age of 18 years. He earned his medical degree in 1952 from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. where he was the top ranking student in his class.
Dr. Leffall completed an internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis in 1953 and then spent his residency at both Freedmen’s Hospital and D.C. General Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was accepted as one of the first black surgical oncology fellows at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in 1957 and remained there before serving two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
Returning to Howard University to concentrate on an academic career in surgical oncology, Dr. Leffall rose through the ranks from assistant professor of surgery in 1962, to the chairman of the department of surgery in 1970, a position he held for over 25 years. He is currently the first Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine. Out of the 7500 medical school graduates, Dr. Leffall has taught over 5000, and more than 250 surgical residents in his career at Howard University.
Dr. Leffall served as the first African-American President of the American College of Surgeons in 1979, and the first African-American President of the American Cancer Society in 1978. He holds eleven honorary degrees and was appointed a member and chair of the President’s Cancer Panel by President George W. Bush in 2002, and is the Chairman of the Board of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Following the credo that “education is the great equalizer”, Dr. Leffall was able to move beyond the boundaries of racism and prejudice and be successful in his education, his medical career and his life.
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