Betty Tong speaking at a podium
Betty Tong, MD, MHS, MSME, BME, speaks at the 2023 Society of Thoracic Surgeons Annual Meeting in San Diego.

An Extraordinary Woman in Cardiothoracic Surgery


Betty Tong, MD, and Thomas D'Amico, MD
Duke Cancer Institute thoracic surgeons Betty Tong, MD, and Thomas D'Amico, MD, at the 2023 Society of Thoracic Surgeons Annual Meeting in San Diego.

Duke Cancer Institute member Betty Tong, MD, MHS, MSME, BME, has won the inaugural “Extraordinary Women in Cardiothoracic Surgery Award” established by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) and Women in Thoracic Surgery (WTS).

The award celebrates those who have achieved excellence and innovation in clinical practice and who demonstrate integrity, leadership, mentorship, creativity, and advocacy on behalf of the specialty, patient population, or fellow surgeons and trainees.

Tong, an active member of both WTS (where she serves as co-chair of membership) and the Association of Women Surgeons, is an associate professor in the tenure track of the Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, Section of General Thoracic Surgery.

She's an accomplished clinical surgeon with a strong focus on complex thoracic oncology and minimally invasive thoracic surgery and has clinical expertise in lung and esophageal cancer surgery as well as mesothelioma. 

In addition to her own busy clinical practice at Duke, Tong operates one day each week at the Durham VA Medical Center with the residents on the General Thoracic Surgery service there.

Tong has served on the Duke Institutional Review Board (IRB) for more than a decade and has more than 120 peer-reviewed publications to her name; about 40 of which were published in the last two years. 

“This tremendous honor recognizes the outstanding achievements of women thoracic surgeons in our specialty,” said Edward Chen, MD, FACS, FAHA, division chief, Cardiothoracic Surgery, in the Duke Department of Surgery. “We are truly blessed and privileged to have Dr. Tong on our faculty at Duke.”

Tong was presented with the award at a celebratory breakfast held during the Jan. 21-23 Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ Annual Meeting in San Diego. Leah M. Backhus, MD, MPH (Stanford University) and Jennifer L. Ellis, MD, MBA (NYU Langone Health) also received the award.

Betty Tong, MD stands on a stage with four other women.
Betty Tong, MD, MHS, MSME, BME (second from left), Leah M. Backhus, MD, MPH (Stanford University), Jennifer L. Ellis, MD, MBA (NYU Langone Health), and two other women.

Engineered for Success

Tong joined Duke in 2008 as an assistant professor of Surgery.

She received her Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1993 and 1995.

Tong graduated from Duke University Medical School in 1999; one of the top students in her class. She completed her training in General Surgery at Johns Hopkins in 2005, which included a research fellowship in Surgical Oncology. She subsequently returned to Duke and completed training in Cardiothoracic Surgery in 2008, whereupon she joined the faculty. Tong dedicated her first year on faculty to attaining a Master’s Degree in Health Sciences (MSH) at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

"Dr. Tong is an extremely successful academic surgeon, with numerous leadership positions. She has demonstrated herself as a successful mentor and as a physician of the highest character and integrity. She has achieved international prominence as an expert in CT Screening, and her academic record is outstanding," wrote Tong's colleague Thomas D'Amico, MD, surgical oncologist and director of DCI's Thoracic Cancer Disease Group, in letter of nomination to the awards committee. "Dr. Tong is truly extraordinary and would represent the STS very well with the STS Extraordinary Women in CT Surgery Award."

A Mentee's Mentor

D'Amico has known Tong since she was a medical student. He was her program director during her Cardiothoracic Surgery training at Duke.

Tong herself was appointed associate program director in the Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program in 2011. She continued to serve in this role when the program received accreditation three years later as a six-year Integrated Thoracic Surgery Residency Program (I-6), which upon completion confers eligibility for certification by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery.

[Duke Surgery began offering this opportunity in July 2014 thanks to Tong's successful grant application filing in 2012-2013 for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Thoracic Surgery Residency Review Committee (RRC).]

Women make up approximately one-third of the CT Surgery Training Program at Duke.

"Our training program has benefited greatly from her leadership," noted D'Amico. "She's responsible for attracting a large number of applicants to the program, which is now approximately 50% women...She mentors women at every level at Duke, including in the General Surgery and Cardiothoracic Surgery residency programs."

Through a grant called "Difficult Conversations in Thoracic Surgery," Tong is currently studying how everyone in the department can improve on the core competencies of professionalism and interpersonal and communication skills. She's working directly with residents to boost their ability to communicate with patients and staff.

One for All

Tong has a particular interest in healthcare disparities and has received grant funding for patient-centered outcomes research.

D'Amico recalled that she established herself as a productive leader in clinical research with her first grant — "Gender Differences in Lung Cancer Patients " — from the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCHWH) program.

She's also been awarded a grant by the Inter-disciplinary Program for Training and Mentoring in Clinical Effectiveness Research Methods and Practice (known as a Duke KM1) to study the use of electronically-captured patient-reported outcomes (ePROs) to improve lung cancer care.

Tong is particularly committed to improving access to lung cancer screening for at-risk populations. This is a strategic priority for DCI.

A member of the NCCN Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Panel, Tong had a hand in creating the guidelines that have now become national policy.

"Even prior to the evaluation of lung cancer screening by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, she developed and currently directs the lung cancer screening program at Duke, one of the first major CT screening programs in the U.S.," said D'Amico. "She gives invited lectures on CT screening internationally and is considered one of the foremost experts in the U.S. in this area."

This page was reviewed on 02/14/2023