Scientist, Doctor, Mom: Dr. Eva Feldman Continues to be a Champion and Trailblazer for Women in Science
During the University of Michigan’s 2019 Homecoming this week, Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., the Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology, will become only the fourth woman with an M.D. to receive the Michigan Medicine Alumni Society’s Distinguished Achievement Award in its 62-year history, and the first in over two decades. She is the first person ever to earn both the Distinguished Achievement Award and the MMAS Early Distinguished Career Award (2001). I interviewed Dr. Feldman concerning her new award, and came away with a new sense of what it means to be “true blue.”
The award “honors U-M Medical School alumni who have typified the Michigan tradition of excellence and have brought credit to the university by their personal accomplishment and recognizes significant contributions in the science and art of medicine.”
See coverage from the October 3 Michigan Medicine Alumni Society Awards dinner HERE.
An examination of her 98-page curriculum vitae – a physician’s precisely-documented resume – tells the tale of her contributions in the science and art of medicine. Here are just some highlights:
- 30 years of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health for her work translating basic findings in her laboratory into new therapies for her patients
- 20 years as director of the U-M Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, currently home to 30 scientists
- Inaugural Director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, a position she held for 10 years, upon receipt of $100 million gift from Alfred Taubman to Michigan Medicine
- A member of the National Academy of Medicine
- Past President of the American Neurological Association, the society of academic neurologists
- The primary investigator of the first clinical trial to treat ALS with the transplantation of stem cells
- An author on new patient care guidelines for obese and diabetic patients suffering from nerve damage
- 15 consecutive years listed in Best Doctors in America, and listed by Castle Connolly as one of America’s top 4 physicians in 2016
- Authored 400+ scientific articles and 70 book chapters, and has written 4 books
She has received over 40 national and international awards recognizing her contributions to medicine, spanning from lifetime achievement awards from the American Diabetes Association, the Society of Neuroscience, the Peripheral Nerve Society, and the American Neurological Association, to scientific awards for her research, and mentoring awards for the hours she has devoted to the training of young physicians and scientists. A full list of her grant funding, awards, and publications are available HERE.
But Dr. Feldman’s contribution to the field of science and medicine can’t fully be catalogued by “money, awards, and manuscripts” … there has been much more. For example, what you won’t find listed on Dr. Feldman’s list of achievements but could very easily be placed at the top, are the names of her three children: Laurel, Scott, John. The narrow white shelves in Dr. Feldman’s office are packed with trophies and plaques for scientific honors; however, featured more prominently are numerous framed photos of her family.
“I want everyone to know you can be a parent, a doctor, and a scientist,” states Dr. Feldman. “My children have enhanced my career and I have tried to incorporate science and medicine into their lives so they understood what I was doing,” she says with a smile. “On Saturdays when they were little I’d bring home dry ice and we played scientists with eggs, vinegar, and baking soda. They have always been a source of encouragement to me, too. I would often find notes in my bag like, ‘Go Mom, Beat ALS.’ And of course they had the obligatory Fisher Price doctor sets growing up.” She continues, “Laurel graduated from U-M Medical School and is now at the University of Washington as a clinical instructor in internal medicine. Scott is an attorney here in Michigan. John graduated from U-M Medical School last year and is a psychiatry resident in Chicago. There really are no words to express the love I have for these three young adults.”
Thirty-five years ago, when Dr. Feldman was completing her medical school degree at Michigan, women in medicine were rare, and women with children, even rarer. Her 1983 U-M Medical School class photo shows that women made up just 25% of her classmates. During her neurology residency interviews, Dr. Feldman was pregnant with her daughter, Laurel, and one department head on the east coast simply told Dr. Feldman: “I don’t believe in female residents having children,” and quickly showed her the door. Dr. Feldman found her “training home” at Johns Hopkins University, where she was warmly welcomed by the Chair of Neurology, Dr. Guy McKhann, who encouraged her to have more children (which she did). She went on to become chief resident at JHU. In 1988, she returned to the University of Michigan and began work in the laboratory of her longtime mentor, Dr. Douglas Greene, on the neurological complications of diabetes, and with her clinical role model, Dr. James Albers.
“Michigan offered a unique, supportive environment where families were appreciated and accepted,” recalls Dr. Feldman. “I was accepted for who I was, what I could accomplish. I wasn’t thought of as the woman with three little children. I was thought of as the neurologist and neuroscientist who’s interested in understanding diseases and developing new therapies.”
“When I met Alfred Taubman in 1999, I met a true genius. The support and encouragement for our research from Alfred and his family was, and continues to be, a real game-changer for us. Alfred
always encouraged us to think broadly and take scientific risks, as he knew this approach would lead to medical discoveries and therapies,” states Dr. Feldman. “We owe much of our success to Alfred, his family, and to our many generous friends, like Bob Nederlander, Robert and Katherine Jacobs, Dick and Jane Manoogian, David and Jennifer Fischer, and Charlene Handleman. I was born under a lucky, scientific star,” Dr. Feldman says with a grin.
She has also always remained an active champion for young scientists and a mentor to the next generation of game changers. Her very first graduate student in 1988 was Donna Martin, who received her Ph.D. under Dr. Feldman, and her M.D. from the University of Michigan and has now ascended to become Michigan Medicine’s Interim Chair of Pediatrics and Physician-in-Chief for Mott Children’s Hospital.
“Dr. Feldman cares about me as a professional and as a person, and as we both are mothers, she is also a constant source of guidance and practical insight on how to master a highly successful academic career with an equally successful family life,” says Martin.
Dr. Feldman’s laboratory, the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, has 14 trainees, and she has served as the mentor of over 100 fellows. She is also the primary investigator for U-M’s Institutional Neurology training grant, which funds numerous other young scientists.
“We have remarkable trainees here at Michigan. One of the most rewarding aspects of being at Michigan Medicine is having the opportunity to train the next generation of scientists and physicians. I frequently learn as much, if not more, from these brilliant young individuals as they learn from me.”
According to the latest U-M Medical School statistics, 57% of the 795 medical school students in 2019 were women. That is exactly the progress that Dr. Feldman set out to achieve three decades ago when she joined the U-M faculty.
James Albers, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Neurology, mentored Dr. Feldman and aptly described her lasting mark on the community: “It wasn’t long into Dr. Feldman’s fellowship with me that the mentee became the mentor. I was happily teaching Eva about my profession, but she was teaching me, by example, to wonder and think about big ideas, and the importance of networking and collaboration in developing these ideas. Even as a junior faculty, she was enabling students in her laboratory and in neurology training programs to succeed. There is no question that she has actively developed the next generation of leaders in academic neurology and neuroscience through her role modeling. This may seem like something that naturally occurs in an academic setting, but not regularly, especially in terms of the number of individuals who have pursued academic careers who were mentored by Dr. Feldman.”
As we end our interview, Dr. Feldman looks happily at her family pictures. “As you can see, I now have 5 children, as two amazing young women entered my life, Alissa and Lauren, both Michigan graduates, when their father and I were married nearly a decade ago.” A big smile appears on her face. “Dr. Neal Little, University of Michigan Medical school class of 1974, and I first met in 1975, my first semester here as a neuroscience doctoral student. We met over a ’brain dissection‘ actually. We lost contact but re-met after 25 years, this time over a more respectable 5K race.” Dr. Feldman concludes “This Distinguished Achievement Award belongs to Neal, our children, and the remarkable scientists, clinicians, and assistants I have worked with in my 31 years here on faculty. As Bo always said, ’the team, the team, the team.’”
By Matt Trevor, PNR&D Communications Director