For almost a half-century, Dr. Gladys Fashena blazed trails as a pioneer in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology. She was the first full-time UT Southwestern faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics and one of just two women on faculty when Southwestern Medical College opened in 1943.
Although her parents were skeptical about their daughter becoming a doctor, Dr. Fashena was determined to make her dream come true. After graduating from Hunter College in New York City, she enrolled in Columbia University to earn a Master of Arts degree from the school’s Department of Philosophy. A medical degree from Cornell University Medical College followed, where she also completed a fellowship in biochemistry.
Next came a pediatric internship and pediatric residency at New York Hospital. It was there she met Dr. Floyd Norman, her future husband. After their wedding, Dr. Fashena moved to Dallas, where Dr. Norman was completing his residency in pediatrics. She joined the faculty at Baylor University College of Medicine as an instructor. Dr. Fashena elected to retain her maiden name professionally because, as she later told the Dallas County Medical Society (DCMS), there was already another female pediatrician named Dr. Norman, and three Dr. Norman pediatricians were too many for one city.
During her early years in Texas, she conducted research in a laboratory she created along with her assistants since there was limited funding for such an endeavor. Among the first to understand that babies who were blue at birth suffered congenital heart problems, Dr. Fashena also became a recognized expert in numerous childhood diseases, particularly rheumatic fever. Among her many contributions to literature are several chapters she wrote for the first edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine.
When Baylor University Medical College moved to Houston in 1943, Dr. Fashena was among the 17 faculty members who chose to stay in Dallas to found Southwestern Medical College. She held the rank of Professor from 1949 until her retirement in 1980, when she became Professor Emeritus. During her tenure Dr. Fashena helped to establish Children’s Medical Center Dallas and its pediatric cardiology department. Her long affiliation with Children’s included serving for 28 years as Director of the Regional Congenital Heart Disease Program, a diagnostic and therapeutic program she pioneered for children with cardiac disease.
Dr. Fashena was honored for both her skills as a physician and her talents as a teacher. In 1961, the DCMS presented her and Dr. Norman with the Marchman Award, the Society’s highest honor. She became the first woman to serve as President of the DCMS and also was on the Southwestern Medical Foundation Board of Directors. Known throughout her career as a popular and effective teacher, Dr. Fashena was selected by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation in 1974as a “Piper Professor” for her outstanding academic, scientific, and scholarly achievement and dedication to the teaching profession. She also received the Texas Pediatric Society’s prestigious Sidney Kaliski Award of Merit in 1983.
Today Dr. Fashena’s legacy continues to inspire future physicians. One of the six academic colleges at UT Southwestern Medical School is named in her honor.