Texas Society of Anesthesiologists

2019 Distinguished Service Award:

Mary Dahlen Peterson, MD, MSHCA, FASA, FACHE

Saturday, September 7, 9:30 - 10:00 a.m.

Mary Dale Peterson, MD, MSHCA, FASA, FACHE

Mary Dahlen Peterson, MD, was born and raised in Houston, Texas. After graduating as valedictorian of St. Thomas Episcopal School, she went on to Texas A&M University majoring in zoology. While there, she worked her way through as a cook in the athletic dormitory, a research assistant for a political science professor, and other odd jobs like typing papers for other students (this was before word processing on computers). Texas A&M University was still a mostly male school – she was one of two women in an engineering calculus class out of 100 students. Despite her advisor discouraging her from applying to medical school, she plowed on and got her first choice - UTMB in Galveston.

While at UTMB, Dr. Peterson made life-long friends. She received the CIBA Award for Outstanding Community Service as the Director of the Rape Crisis Center, which organized medical students to assist women who came to the ER as well as the Herman A. Barnett Memorial Award. Late in her junior year, she met her husband, Dr. Rafael Coutin, on the East Beach of Galveston as he rode in on his newlypurchased Hobie catamaran to the junior class party. It was love at first sight 40 years ago and they were married a little over a year later in Galveston.

Dr. Peterson enjoyed all her rotations, especially pediatrics. However, late in the process, she did an anesthesia rotation which convinced her to pursue a combination of the two specialties. She decided to stay at UTMB for her anesthesia residency while her husband did his cardiology fellowship. After being forged as an Arens'- Trained Anesthesiologist (ATA), she and her husband decided to practice in the under-served city of Corpus Christi. With a newborn in tow, she joined Dr. Leo Duflot at Driscoll Children's Hospital as the second full-time pediatric anesthesiologist. Dr. Coutin also joined a solo practitioner, so it was quite a juggling act with both on call every other night for the first five years with a newborn.

It was an exciting time to be a pediatric anesthesiologist as many new procedures were being tried to save children with severe congenital heart disease. She worked with a very talented CV surgeon, Dr. Jim Duff, who did the first arterial switch in Texas. The team went to international meetings to learn the latest and spent many hours laboring over children in the ICU. It was that work in the PICU that led to her second job. The PICU at that time was an open unit with a lot of nursing turnover and dysfunction. Dr. Peterson was asked by the CEO of the hospital to take on running the PICU. She had recruited two more pediatric anesthesiologists who also had other specialty boards in pediatrics and/or critical care. Along the way, she also earned her Master's Degree in Health Care Administration from Trinity University around the time she was President of the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists and pregnant with her third son.

Eventually, Dr. Peterson was asked to help with the new fledgling Medicaid health plan for the system. She became very interested in population health and trying to prevent many of the tragedies that she had witnessed in her 30 year career in the OR and ICU. She worked on programs to prevent pre-term births which have decreased from over 15% to less than 10% as well as early childhood caries, a preventable disease that affects many low-income children. Her work in these areas earned her the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Pediatric Society. Dr. Peterson recently became the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Driscoll Health System where she oversees all the clinical care in the health plan, and physician clinics throughout South Texas and the hospital.

From her early career, she participated in organized medicine. At that time, it was considered an honor and a privilege to join a medical society. She joined her local medical society as well as the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists, her second family. She eventually became a District Director and served on many TSA committees, most notably Economics and Governmental Affairs. She ultimately became President of TSA and then started to advance within the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she became the Director from Texas, Assistant Treasurer, Treasurer and now President-Elect. The journey has been filled with long conference calls and committee meetings, but it has been done with friends who want the same goal- to improve the practice of medicine now and for the future.

Dr. Peterson is grateful for the many individuals who encouraged her in this journey like Dr. Joe Annis, who gave words of encouragement the first time she came to the microphone as a young delegate or Dr. Jim Turk, who stepped aside so she could become a TSA Director. And then there were the giants: Betty Stephenson who gave her an ASA Committee assignment and Jim Arens who, though a man of few words, gave great advice along the way. There were many other encouragers and friends like Dr. John Zerwas and Dr. Jim Grant who gave her the confidence that she could be a leader and could become President of the ASA.

Finally, this journey could not have been done without the support of family. Dr. Peterson is thankful for her parents and siblings who always believed she could accomplish her dreams, despite some of the beliefs at the time that women shouldn't become physicians. She is grateful for her husband, Rafael, who has put up with the conference calls and meetings and shouldered extra duties. He has been her guidepost, confidante, and best friend all along the way. Her three sons, Chris, Mark (and his wife Holly), and Steven are the ultimate joys in her life. They also made sacrifices along the way- no worries that they had a helicopter mom! They are fine men and Mark even decided to pursue anesthesiology, despite his parents' long hours. Final gratitude goes to the Creator who has blessed her with so much and hopes that she can return a little of those blessings back to others.

  Choose From Among 41 Hours Of Continuing Medical Education

   This CME activity meets the formal CME requirements for the State of Texas annual medical license renewal, including:

  • Thursday Legislative Program – 3.0 CME hours
  • Friday – Sunday Scientific Program – 16.25 CME hours
  • Workshops – 12.0 CME hours
  • Parallel Sessions – 9.75 CME hours


   Included in the above hours:

   Ethics Sessions – 5.5 CME Hours

   MOCA® 1.0 / MOCA® 2.0- 14.0 Patient Safety Credits

   Educational programs are jointly sponsored by Texas Medical Association and Texas Society of Anesthesiologists.


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