Early Riser: Profile of Surgeon Nancy Ascher

A Day in the Life of UCSF's First Female Chair of Surgery

By Jane Goodman and Claire Conway

It was 1975 when Nancy Ascher, MD, PhD, chose surgery, a specialty shoulder-deep in men.

Then again, so was medical school – Ascher was one of 20 women in her class of 180.

After her residency, she blew past every gender barrier to become the first woman to perform a liver transplant, garnering enough speed to break through the stainless-steel ceiling to serve as UC San Francisco's first female chair of the Department of Surgery – one of three women holding that title in the country.

Beginning in the pre-dawn hours, the pace at which Ascher propels through every day is the velocity required for the steep ascent of a remarkable career that has been devoted to organ transplants and transplant research.

Today, she is ranked as one of the nation's top doctors, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Ascher has been called upon to provide her expertise on national committees and organizations. She has served on the Presidential Task Force on Organ Transplantation, the Surgeon General's Task Force on Increasing Donor Organs and the Secretary of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Open Transplantation. She is a fellow of the American Colleges of Surgeons and a member of numerous other medical specialties, including the American Society of Transplant Surgeons in which she served as past president.

Ascher is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her medical degree. She completed a general surgery residency and clinical transplant fellowship at the University of Minnesota, where she later joined the faculty and became clinical director of the Liver Transplant Program.

Ascher was recruited from the Unviersity of Minnesota along with another top surgeon John Roberts, MD, in 1988 to start a liver transplant program at UCSF. Shortly thereafter, they were married at City Hall. Roberts is chief of UCSF Transplant Service, one of the largest and most highly regarded programs of its kind in the country, including kidney, liver and pacreas transplants. 

Photos by Elisabeth Fall/fallfoto.com

UCSF Magazine, Spring 2013

The Spring 2013 issue of UCSF Magazine includes stories about UCSF’s pioneering stem cell program and latest Nobel Prize winner, the emerging field of precision medicine, how our students serve the community, research that suggests healthy living may be the new power drug, and a photo essay of our dynamic chair of surgery.