Search Menu Globe Arrow Right Close
discoveries magazine

Sarah Vasen: A Pioneer in Obstetrics and Hospital Leadership

Dr. Sarah Vasen, the first Jewish woman to practice medicine in Los Angeles and the first female executive appointed at Kaspare Cohn Hospital.

Courtesy Cedars-Sinai Medical Library Conservancy

Dr. Sarah Vasen has several firsts to her name. In 1904, she became the first Jewish woman to practice medicine in Los Angeles. In 1906, she was the first female executive appointed at Kaspare Cohn Hospital, which later became Cedars-Sinai. Vasen was a female physician specializing in gynecology and obstetrics at a time when the field was overwhelmingly lead by men.

"Dr. Vasen was one of the first female OB-GYNs to practice in Los Angeles, but we shouldn’t forget that women had been practicing midwifery years before men took over and ‘created’ this specialty," says Dr. Kimberly D. Gregory, director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Cedars-Sinai and the Helping Hand of Los Angeles–The Miriam Jacobs Chair in Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “Dr. Vasen was a pioneer female OB-GYN physician, and now women dominate the field.”

Beyond her medical practice, Dr. Vasen’s stewardship also paved the way for women holding leadership roles within healthcare organizations.

"Women bring a different style and way of thinking to leadership, which helps to create better organizations due to their diversity of thought and approach," says Nicole Leonard, vice president and associate dean of Research at Cedars-Sinai. "Given how groundbreaking it was for Dr. Vasen to have been a clinician, let alone a healthcare executive, her unique perspective certainly informed and shaped the inclusive culture of Cedars-Sinai that still persists over 100 years later." 

After leaving Kaspare Cohn Hospital in 1910, Dr. Vasen opened a private maternity practice and spent much of her time volunteering to help low-income members of Los Angeles’ growing Jewish community.

"The board members of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital—themselves marginalized as Jewish—helped empower Dr. Vasen to care for the community," says Dr. Shelly C. Lu, director of the Karsh Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Cedars-Sinai and the Women’s Guild Chair in Gastroenterology. "Because Cedars-Sinai grew from Kaspare Cohn, these are our foundational stories. They are brilliant inspirations as we work to overcome barriers to serving the community."

Dr. Vasen’s legacy continues at Cedars-Sinai to this day.

“Dr. Vasen’s leadership as both a physician and senior hospital administrator clearly contributed to the rise of modern-day Cedars-Sinai’s success,” says Dr. C Noel Bairey Merz, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Smidt Heart Institute and the Irwin and Sheila Allen Chair in Women’s Heart Research. “We recognize her inclusion as making the overwhelming case for diversity in the workplace.”

Learn more about the history of medicine and the history of Cedars-Sinai, engage with our Program in the History of Medicine.