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Felix Wimpfheimer, M.D. ’45

Felix Wimpfheimer, M.D. ’45
Felix Wimpfheimer, M.D.

In May, 1938, when Felix Wimpfheimer, M.D. ’45 was 17 years-old, he and his twin brother fled from Nazi Germany to the United States, immigrating ahead of his parents who later followed. “We were very fortunate –no one stayed behind. My mother, was the last to arrive, leaving on November 9, 1938, the day of Kristallnacht [the deadly attack that marked the beginning of the pervasive use of violence by the Nazi regime, where the policy had been oppressive but primarily non-violent before],” he recalls.

As an undergraduate student at New York University, Dr. Wimpfheimer became fascinated with the idea of pursuing a scientific career in which he could help people. That fascination grew into a calling and in 1942, when restrictions against the admission of Jews were standard policy for most medical schools, he was accepted to New York Medical College, an institution that staunchly rejected the racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic restrictions of the time.

If he wasn’t fully aware of the College’s commitment to inclusivity—Dr. Wimpfheimer says this became abundantly clear within his first few days of medical school. “I learned about the College’s history of inclusivity while I was a student. Since we were seated alphabetically, I became friends with Jane Cooke Wright [M.D. ’45], next to whom I was seated in all my classes. Dr. Wright was an African American woman who became a world-class cancer researcher and surgeon celebrated for her contributions to chemotherapy,” he says. This inclusivity went beyond the student body, he explains: “Three of my mentors and teachers were Jewish refugees from Europe including Dr. David Scherf, a world-renowned cardiologist who came to the U.S. from Vienna in 1938, Dr. Herbert Elias, an internist who came to the U.S. from Vienna in 1939 and taught physical diagnosis at NYMC, and Dr. Kurt Lange, a specialist in peripheral vascular and kidney disease who fled Berlin in 1938.”

As a teacher and clinician, he has been an inspiration to students, house staff, and colleagues at Montefiore Hospital and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. In 2003, he was honored by the American College of Physicians for his lifetime devotion to the care of patients. At that time, he had voluntarily recertified himself in internal medicine for a record four times.

This October, Dr. Wimpfheimer received New York Medical College’s Alfred B. DelBello Distinguished Service Award, which honors individuals whose careers and contributions to health care, science, and our communities have profoundly impacted the practice of medicine and have added immeasurable prestige to the College.

Reflecting back on his own time as a medical student, Dr. Wimpfheimer says: “I am very grateful to NYMC for giving me the opportunity to have a long and rewarding career in the practice of medicine. I am also grateful that they gave this opportunity to many others based solely on merit and not on sex, race, or religion. The institution was truly ahead of its time in forging a meritocracy for medical school admissions.”