Dr. Mary Lake Polan ’65 P’02 ’10 named “Giant in Obstetrics and Gynecology”
In a profile detailing Polan’s distinguished contributions to the field of medicine, the AJOG wrote, “Dr. Mary Lake Polan is a physician-scientist, clinician, educator, and academic leader who has produced pioneering work on the role of cytokines and inflammation in reproduction, specifically in implantation and ovulation.
“She served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University, promoted clinical excellence, and established a unique program to treat women with obstetrical fistulas and to train surgeons in the East African country of Eritrea.
“Dr. Polan is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, an author, and a humanist. For her many contributions that have changed the lives of women, Dr. Polan is recognized as a Giant in Obstetrics and Gynecology.”
Polan obtained her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1965. She earned a doctorate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry in 1970, followed by a medical degree in 1975, both from Yale University School of Medicine. After completing her residency at Yale she held a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology in its department of obstetrics and gynecology. In 2001, after deciding to expand her efforts and research in women’s health, Dr. Polan earned a master of public health degree in the Maternal and Child Health Program at the University of California, Berkeley.
She worked and taught at Yale University School of Medicine until 1990, with intervals as a visiting professor in Iran in 1978 and China in 1986. In 1990 she moved to Stanford University School of Medicine, where she has since served as chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and as the Katharine Dexter McCormick and Stanley McCormick Memorial Professor.
She also initiated the Eritrean Women’s Program, created to surgically treat women with obstetrical fistulas and to train Eritrean surgeons to repair the fistulas; it was an endeavor lasting nearly two decades.
In 2009, she received the Americans for UNFPA Award for the Health and Dignity of Women. The award recognizes her efforts at improving maternal health services in Eritrea. She is a founder of the Eritrean Women’s Project and, prior to the pandemic, continued to travel to Eritrea to perform surgery and train local medical professionals.
“In life and politics today, important decisions are based on the sciences. If you don’t understand science, you can’t participate or serve society in the manner you should. You have to broaden your interests so you are prepared for the world you enter today,” she said during a 2012 ceremony to dedicate the renovation of New London Hall into a state-of-the-art science center.
Polan is currently a member of the Executive Committee for Defy Boundaries, Conn’s recently- launched comprehensive campaign. She is an emeritus trustee, having served as a board member from 2001 to 2009. In 1992, Polan received the Connecticut College Medal, conferred on individuals whose accomplishments or service have enhanced the College’s reputation and nourished its growth. It is the highest honor the College can confer.