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Dr. Ellen Sayet: Lee Health’s First Female Physician

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Author name: Lee Health


Dr. Sayet current portraitDr. Ellen Sayet, the first female physician at Lee Health, as she looks today.

This Women’s History Month, we honor Dr. Ellen Sayet's contributions to Lee Health and Southwest Florida. 

In 1973, Dr. Sayet became the first female physician at Lee Health (Lee Memorial Health System at the time). She helped establish Lee Health as a leader in cancer care treatment while serving as a role model for women in healthcare. 

Now, 51 years later, more than 200 female physicians serve with the largest public, not-for-profit health system in Florida.

Born in New York, Dr. Sayet and her family moved to Miami in 1953. She attended the University of Miami, receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and medical technology.

She then earned her Doctor of Medicine (MD) from The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, Dr. Sayet resumed her medical training by completing a hematology and oncology fellowship at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Sayet became a physician because “it just felt right,” she says. “I always loved science, and I wanted the chance to help others in a meaningful way.”

After completing her fellowship, Dr. Sayet moved to Fort Myers to join Lee Health as an oncologist at Lee Memorial Hospital. During her career, Dr. Sayet established the first oncology unit at the hospital, where she helped train nurses to enhance and expand care options for cancer patients.

Her love of diagnosing and treating patients opened the door for the Lee Health Cancer Institute

Dr. Sayat 1970s

Dr. Sayet in the 1970s

Support and Respect

Dr. Sayet says the inclusive culture at Lee Memorial Hospital made her feel supported throughout her career. Everyone treated each other with respect, regardless of race and gender. 

The 1970s marked the beginning of a women’s health movement as the number of women medical school graduates increased. Dr Sayet recalls being only 1 of 4 women in her internal medicine internship. At the time, it had been more than 100 years since the first woman earned a medical degree in the United States. 

Still, it wasn’t until the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which outlawed any discrimination based on sex in any educational institute receiving federal funding, that more women began pursuing careers in medicine. Now, more than half of medical school applicants are women.

Dr. Sayet says things have changed quite a bit since she first began treating patients. In her early days as a practitioner, women were expected to choose between having a career and a personal life. Not anymore, of course. 

“What surprises me the most is that these women have a life as well as practicing medicine,” she says with admiration. She encourages girls and women to embrace the work-life balance with open arms. 

Dr. Sayet today

Dr. Sayet, who retired from Lee Health in 1984, continues to find joy through her art. A talented illustrator and painter, her work can be seen in many local art shows. When she’s not creating art, she spends time with her husband and close friends.

What lesson can be learned from a life filled with learning, joy, and perseverance? 

“Follow your heart, do what you’re good at, and make life a priority.”

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