Black and white photo of Marsha Harris

Marsha Harris
CAS ’98, GSM ’02 | BA in Chemistry, MD

Exceptional on the Court and in the OR

By Catherine Hong
Portrait by Louisa Wells

As one of the most sought-after colon and rectal surgeons in New York City—she regularly is included in best-of lists—Marsha Harris is accustomed to discussing her approach to minimally invasive and robotic surgery for cancer and diverticulitis. But she sometimes finds herself answering a different type of question from patients who have clearly googled her: “Do you still play basketball?”
            Back when she was a chemistry major on a premed track at the College of Arts and Science, Harris was captain of the Violets women’s basketball team and one of the most famous college athletes in the country (for details about her stellar b-ball triumphs, see Class Notes in this issue).
            Despite her success on the court, the New Yorker born in Jamaica and raised in Queens never wavered from her ultimate goal of becoming a colon and rectal surgeon, despite the fact that being Black made it “an even more difficult situation to navigate,” she says. (Today, less than 2 percent of all physicians in this specialty are Black.) After earning her Bachelor of Arts, she attended the Grossman School of Medicine and earned her Doctor of Medicine.
            As for the answer to her patients’ question about whether she keeps up with the sport: “Unfortunately, I don’t really have the time,” says Harris, who has her own private practice in Manhattan (where she speaks three languages: English, Russian, and Spanish) and is also a clinical assistant professor of surgery at NYU.
        Yet the athletic community has never forgotten her. She was inducted into the New York University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004 and honored with the NCAA’s 2023 Silver Anniversary Award, which celebrates former student-athletes for their outstanding collegiate and professional achievements (Peyton Manning was one of the other honorees). The lessons Harris learned shooting hoops endure. “In the operating room, we are a team,” she says. “And as captain, you have to make sure everyone on the team is fulfilling their job and you’re putting them in the best possible position to succeed. As long as you’re creating a collegial environment where everyone can provide input and feel safe and comfortable in expressing what is happening at the time, it’s much better for the patient.”