Compassionate Surgeon Takes On The LawContact: Finnegan, Lisa
NEW YORK -For her first year at Fordham Law, Stephanie Rifkinson-Mann never told her professors or classmates that she had the letters "M.D." at the end of her name.
"I wanted to be treated like everyone else in my class," she said. "People have all sorts of opinions about doctors and I didn't want my profession to distract from the camaraderie."
Modesty is a trait that describes Dr. Rifkinson-Mann, a pediatric neurosurgeon, well. For 20 years she has performed brain surgery and specialized in the treatment of neurological disorders of the brain and the spinal cord in children. It's a field of medicine that she grew up around.
"My father was - and still is - a pediatric neurosurgeon. I was raised in a rural area of Puerto Rico and I used to enjoy tagging along with him when he visited patients. I remember one year that one of his patient's families paid their medical bill in the form of a goat. I was thrilled," she said.
The big question that Mann gets from just about everybody these days is: Why make the change? Why leave medicine and start all over as a novice lawyer?
"My reason has a lot to do with the kind of doctor I've been. I believe a physician's loyalty to patients is supreme," she said. "The situation today with health care insurance and HMOs makes it increasingly difficult for physicians to treat and for families to access health care. I hope a career in law might give me the opportunity to make some changes that help doctors help their patients."
"Supermom" isn't a word in Mann's vocabulary, but it's a close description of what she does every day. As if being a beeper-carrying neurosurgeon and an evening law student isn't enough, she holds down a third job that is of primary importance to her: wife (her husband is an orthopedic surgeon) and mom to two daughters.
"For many years now I've averaged about four hours of sleep each night during the week. I could never do it without the support of my husband. For us, family is worth the effort," she said.
Mann applied and was accepted to five prominent law schools in the New York area. At Fordham, she was selected as a Stein Scholar in the Law's School's Center for Law and Ethics. She said her decision to choose a law career and to pursue it at Fordham had a lot to do with the values and principles that the University epitomizes.
"There's a unique sense of spirit, even family, with Fordham," she said. "I sensed it from the first orientation day to later classes with faculty and classmates and even alumni, who share this love and respect for what the school instilled in them. You don't get that at every law school."
Mann says she'll take the service lessons she learned at Fordham with her in her career as a lawyer.
"I'm applying for clerkships and keeping my fingers crossed that the law opportunities I'm afforded will be a good match for me, both as far as the kind of issues I care about, and in terms of the message Fordham has taught me about service to others," she said.