Forget any stereotype you might have had about a “hospitalist” and meet Dr. Ingrid Feder of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
When Feder walks into a patient’s room for the first time, her diverse cultural background, her empathy for the patient (as well as his or her family), and her holistic view of medicine are not visibly worn on her sleeve, but perhaps they should be.
The highlight reel of her life includes being born and raised in Germany and coming to New York in 1977; working for several years on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, including being adopted into the tribe, an unusual occurrence, especially for a white woman; marrying a West African man from Gambia and falling in love with African culture; and quitting a job in medical academia at Stony Brook University Hospital to immerse herself “in the trenches,” beginning in 2001 as a doctor at New London’s Community Health Center in Shaw’s Cove.
“My attitude is that everything you ever learn in your life, and not just in your professional life, but in your life, is like a building block that allows you to build other things on top of it,” Feder says.
“I love what I do,” she says. “I love my colleagues. And I always explain to my patients, ‘I worry about you from head to toe, and I worry about what happens to you when you leave.’”
A young Ingrid first came to America as the bride of an American serviceman, but the relationship didn’t last, and, in 1981, Feder enrolled for a semester at Fordham University to see if she could “stand on her own feet” in a foreign country.
“At first, I thought I would just take a semester, to see what that was like,” she said. “I stayed for another semester, and then another. About 15 years later, including medical school and residency, my father said to me: ‘I don’t think you’re coming home.’”
Feder went from Fordham to Stony Brook University, where she graduated from medical school and did her residency before joining the Stony Brook faculty in the family medicine department. But when an opportunity to practice in Montana on the Crow Reservation came up, she jumped at the chance.
“I really, really loved it,” she says. “It was very hard work, because you pretty much had to do absolutely everything. We would man the emergency room, admit patients to ourselves, make rounds ourselves and discharge them to ourselves for follow-up on an outpatient basis. So, you totally knew everything about your patients. But it was really awesome in terms of the culture.”
Feder’s openness to the Indian culture earned her invitations to sweat lodges with Crow women and two sun dances.
“It’s really a very special thing because you really have to be invited by the medicine men,” she said. “Some of the things that happened to me in Montana are so invaluable now.”
Feder remains in touch with her adopted Indian nation and she speaks on the phone with her adopted Crow niece almost every week. Feder, however, said Stony Brook had a “rubber band” attached to her, and it pulled her back for a few more years before she came to New London.
“I loved their attitude at Stony Brook,” she said. “They had a complete, holistic approach to people, and that’s why I went into family medicine there.”
Feder carries that philosophy with her today. She’s often the doctor who gets called if an L+M patient presents with a cultural barrier.
“Whenever anybody comes in with any kind of a cultural issue,” she says, “I will just go in and say, ‘Well, tell me about yourself…’
“That’s what I loved from when I first came here and was living in New York City,” she continued. “Germany is much more homogenous, and I just loved the way people in the city were living together. That’s my thing. And I like that about New London, too.”
As a hospitalist, Feder always promises patients that she will consult with their personal physicians to provide the best care, and she means it. After all, in Montana, she often allowed medicine men to practice their traditional native healing even as she practiced more traditional medicine.
“And I loved that – and it’s why I feel I’m lucky,” she said. “I’ve learned so much. And still, after all these years, I’m very excited about being a doctor.”
To learn more about Dr. Feder, click here.