Dr. M. Irené Ferrer

As a young physician, Dr. Irené Ferrer was the first woman to serve as chief resident at Bellevue Hospital, where she was given a prestigious opportunity: to work with a leading team of cardiologists who were developing the cardiac catheter. Had it not been for the lack of male candidates during World War II, it is unlikely that a woman physician would have been given such a chance. But Dr. Ferrer played a vital role in the project. The catheter was an important step toward open-heart surgery and earned the team a Nobel Prize in 1956. Dr. Ferrer also collaborated with IBM to make computerized interpretation of electrocardiograms possible for the first time. From 1953 to 1986, she was director of the Electrocardiographics Department at Doctors Hospital. Since 1986, she has served as an honorary consultant at Presbyterian and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt and is professor emeritus at Columbia University. Special among her many honors, is the M. Irené Ferrer Professorship in Women’s Health and Gender-specific Medicine at Columbia University, established in her name by the Partnership for Women’s Health founded and directed by Dr. Marianne Legato. Dr. Marianne Legato was one of the many younger physicians Dr. Irené Ferrer mentored in an extraordinary way throughout her career. When Marianne Legato left medical school because she could not afford the tuition, Dr. Ferrer convinced the Dean to let Legato return and paid for the rest of her education. (Dr. Marianne Legato): “And Dr. Ferrer herself went back and personally called on the Dean of NYU and said, ‘I’m gonna pay for this, young woman’s education. I will guarantee a good performance, and I want you to take her back’, which he did. After that I became really a member of the Ferrer family, and they were a wonderful, wonderful force in my own life and in my own development. It was a wonderful family to which I had sort of been added, and they really made my career possible.” Dr. Ferrer’s contribution to the development of the cardiac catheter and the compelling example she gave to medical students was based on her extraordinary relationship with her patients. (Dr. Marianne Legato): “She became devoted to many of her patients, whom she dearly loved. Her love of patients was really remarkable and one of the things about her that made her so engaging as a role model for us. So that combination of intellectual brilliance and real love of the patient was sort of a winning combination for those of us who were lucky enough to be her students.”