These women and three others were chosen from among almost 50 applicants as finalists for the award, which recognizes and encourages women who are accomplished and emerging leaders in medicine.
The award is given by the National Board for Women in Medicine of the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hahnemann University, the successor of the first medical school to admit women.
“The board specifically exists to give this award,” said six-year member Shellie Roth.
It is comprised of professional women such as Roth, who runs an investor relations firm.
Scientists are nominated by their department heads and then the board sends all applications for medical peer review and receives back a ranking of the top 10 to 12 candidates.
From there comes the difficult task of choosing a winner, based primarily on applicants’ research and accomplishments, and secondarily on medical specialties and current social concerns.
The winner, to be announced April 28 at a ceremony in Philadelphia, will receive a $10,000 stipend.
Donahoe became Harvard’s first female professor of surgery in 1986 and is now the Marshall K. Bartlett professor of surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Robertson is a professor of medicine and director of the Vanderbilt University Women’s Heart Institute in Nashville, while Young is the Julieanne Dorn Professor of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and HMS.
All three women are well advanced in research. Robertson, who began her research in 1975, studies autonomic cardiovascular control. Donahoe investigates congenital anomalies in children and their causes. Young conducts brain receptor research in relation to neurodegenerative diseases, and was part of the team of scientists who discovered the gene for Huntington’s disease.
Donahoe called research “spectacular.”
“It’s fun. It’s like going to your playpen everyday,” she said. “Surgery is taking unsolved problems from the clinic and wrestling with them. You get over your frustration.”
Robertson said she enjoyed learning new surgical and lab techniques, even if it somewhat daunting.
“When you pick up new technology, you feel like you’re back in kindergarten,” she said.
Robertson is also well known for her work in health policy, serving as the immediate past president of the American Heart Association. As president, she pulled together federal agencies to formulate the Healthy People 2010 objectives.
The National Board dates back to the 1950s, when women were not as well supported in medicine, Roth said.
“Knowing the rules of the game has been tougher for women,” Robertson said.
Donahoe said she went to Tufts to train in general surgery because Harvard did not accept women in their surgical program at the time. Years later, when Harvard Medical School began to accept women in 1949, she trained there in pediatric surgery.
Donahoe said that there has been a significant change. Now, she said, “Harvard is a wonderful place for women.”