From Mount Sinai to West Africa, Dr. Jeffrey Freed works to help people in need.

Jeffrey S. Freed, MD, began his medical residency at Mount Sinai after graduating from public institutions where he had paid little or no tuition. “I had the good fortune to leave medical school with absolutely no debt,” he says.

And Dr. Freed – a colorectal surgeon and Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery at Mount Sinai Medical School – has tried to aid students who are not so fortunate. As a member of the Mount Sinai Alumni Association, serving as Board President from 2001 to 2003, he has worked to make medical education affordable for those students “so that the onerous burden of debt does not impede their careers.”

This kind of activism is why Dr. Freed is a 2010 finalist for one of Mount Sinai’s most prestigious honors, the Jacobi Medallion. Created in 1952 to mark the 100th anniversary of Mount Sinai’s founding, and named for Dr. Abraham Jacobi, a pioneer in pediatrics and a past president of the Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Board, the award recognizes Mount Sinai physicians for medical achievements and/or service to the hospital, the Medical School or the Alumni Association.

The accomplishments of Dr. Freed, who says he would be “humbled” to receive the Medallion, are both local and international: Since 2008, he has led an annual Mount Sinai medical mission to the West African nation of Liberia – helping to rebuild that country’s healthcare system, which had been shattered by decades of civil war.

‘A Full-Court Press’ to Help Medical Students
As Alumni Association Board President, Dr. Freed and his predecessor, Dr. Avi Barbasch, partnered with Mount Sinai’s Development Office to create a fundraising network of alumni and other donors. Dr. Freed has also worked with the Association’s chapters in other parts of the country to encourage alumni involvement in fundraising, primarily to endow scholarships. In addition, an alumni scholarship was recently donated in Dr. Freed’s name – “for some student(s) in need, with exceptional credentials,” he explains, “who would receive $50,000 a year, for five years.”

The need for such scholarships, says Dr. Freed, is urgent. “In a survey, we found that debt is a tremendous factor in medical students’ choosing their specialty training upon graduation,” he notes, “and that for minority students, fear of debt is a major reason that they shy away from pursuing any medical education. This led me to believe that a full-court press for raising money for scholarships was really necessary.”

Rebuilding from the Ashes of War
Dr. Freed faced even greater challenges on his first mission to Liberia. “There were between 35 and 40 Liberian doctors left in the country,” he recalls. “That’s about one doctor for every 100,000 people.”

Working at two local hospitals, Dr. Freed and his team of 16 physicians and seven medical students treated close to 200 patients for conditions including cancer, hernias and cataracts, trained local health providers and set up a chemotherapy suite.

Dr. Freed subsequently led two more missions, in 2009 and 2010, and is currently planning another for early 2011. In that time, he has seen significant progress.

“Their X-ray and sonogram capabilities have increased remarkably,” he says. “Nursing protocols have been put in so women in labor are more closely monitored. These are relatively simple, basic programs – and they are sustainable by the people there.”

Whether at home or abroad, as physician, educator or fundraiser, Dr. Freed is motivated by the same sense of compassion that has inspired his medical career.

“We are physicians to really help people,” he says. “That is the primary goal.”

– Philip Berroll

Originally published in Mount Sinai Science & Medicine magazine, 2011.

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