Indian Health Services Interviews
SIX NEW MEXICO JEWISH PHYSICIANS WITH THE INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE (IHS) TELLING THE STORIES:
The Indian Health Service was instrumental in bringing some of the foremost Jewish physicians to New Mexico, providing them with an experience which augmented their skills and presented them with a challenging environment that greatly tested them. These physicians in the Indian Health Service will illuminate a part of New Mexico Jewish history heretofore not documented.
The project interview team included: Dr. Noel Pugach, Professor Emeritus of History, University of New Mexico, and Mr. Harvey Buchalter, M.A., retired Social Studies Teacher, Albuquerque, and Los Lunas Public Schools.
In-person interviews were conducted with:
Dr. Marvin Godner, Pediatrician
Dr. Anne Kessler, Pediatrician
Dr. Beth Reich, Pediatrician
Dr. Joel Rosen, Family Medicine
Dr. Joel Saland, Pediatrician
Dr. Laurence Shandler, Internal Medicine
Harvey Buchalter summarizes the common threads that each of these dedicated physicians shared among themselves:
“All shared the trait of altruism and the ethical aim of Tikkun Olam – bringing your skills to help fix the ills of the world. This Jewish value played a significant role in their decisions to choose Native Americans as their patients. All felt themselves to be outsiders in the medical world. Drs. Reich and Godner had faced anti-Semitism in their quest to become physicians, while Dr. Rosen shared classroom space with medical students considerably younger than himself.”
“All were able to practice “real medicine,” freed of the constraints of medical bureaucracy, and all felt that their service in treating a vulnerable population, particularly in ER situations, was very satisfying. They all looked back with fondness for the opportunity to learn about other cultures and share the closeness of camaraderie with their fellow doctors who had also chosen the unique environment of the IHS to practice the art of healing.”
The following interview questions initiated those conversations, which in turn led to other fascinating avenues:
- What Jewish values did these recently minted physicians bring to the “untamed” Southwest?
- What challenges did they face as “traditional” healing arts faced the academic training they received in medical school?
- How were they received by Native people and co-workers in hospitals and clinics?
- How did service in the Indian Health Service make them reflect on their Jewish values and up bringing?
- How did they grow as Jews? As physicians?
- What memories do they have of their years of service?
Each of those interviews and a short biographical sketch are provided below with link to those interviews.
Dr. Marvin Godner: Dr. Godner was born in Astoria, Queens and attended Undergraduate School at University of Massachusetts- Amherst. After applying to several medical schools and being rejected, which Dr. Godner attributes to anti-Semitism, he was encouraged to apply to Albany Medical College and was accepted to medical school there. He completed his residency at Mt. Sinai and was soon drafted and sent to Vietnam. After his tour of duty, Dr. Godner was recruited to work at Sage Memorial Hospital in Ganado, New Mexico. The hospital was part of Project Hope but largely funded by the Indian Health Service at the time. As Dr. Godner describes in his interview, medical staff treated all types of patients including OB-GYN, Family Practice, and Emergency Medicine in addition to his own specialty, Pediatrics.
Dr. Anne Kessler: Dr. Kessler was born in Washington, DC, but raised largely in New York City. Her father, mother, and brother were physicians, and she followed in their footsteps. Because her father worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva, she became fluent in French and attended school there. She thereby gained a broad international perspective. She went to medical school in Philadelphia. Anne worked in New York for a few years. Her brother was a physician in Zuni, and she followed him to New Mexico, spending seven years in Gallup and eventually settling in Santa Fe. She was drawn by the spirit of adventure and the beauty of the environment. She was also influenced by the concept of Tzedakah and her desire to give back to society. Dr. Kessler also was drawn by her ability to combine clinical medicine and public health.
She enjoyed working with the Zuni and found the men to be very funny. She was taken aback by the poverty and malnutrition she witnessed on the Navajo Reservation. Dr. Kessler learned much by working in New Mexico and was struck by the high number of premature babies who had to be treated in area hospitals. She formed life-long friendships and has fond memories of celebrating Jewish festivals with other Jewish doctors.
Dr. Beth Reich: Dr. Reich, originally from Queens, attended New York Medical School in the early 1970s when it was very difficult for women to be admitted and felt adversely affected by her gender. She then completed her residency in Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut- Farmington. Upon completion, Dr. Reich came to New Mexico to become a Commissioned Officer, as it was termed, at the Albuquerque Indian Hospital.
Dr. Joel Rosen: Dr. Rosen is currently a hospitalist at Christus-St. Vincent’s hospital in Santa Fe, and he was born and raised in Beersheba, Israel. After completing medical school at Ben Gurion University, Dr. Rosen returned to the U.S. to complete his residency at the University of New Mexico in Family Medicine. He, then, took a position with the Indian Health Service in Kayenta, AZ. and served there from 2005 – 08.
Dr. Joel Saland: Dr. Joel Saland was born, raised, and educated in New York City. He chose to join IHS to avoid the draft and an assignment in Vietnam. He was excited about the prospect for five years before he came to Tuba City, Arizona, where he served at the IHS hospital, specializing in pediatrics. It was a totally new experience because he had never been west of Philadelphia. To prepare him, friends left articles on snake bites.
In Arizona, he saw a lot of severe diarrhea, pneumonia, trachoma, meningitis, and diabetes among seniors. The Navajo were seemed very willing to accept his recommendations. Joel reported that on a few occasions he worked with Medicine Men in the hospital. Dr. Saland summed up his service as follows: “IHS was a fascinating, stimulating experience and I didn’t have kill anybody. I helped people. And I went to a place which I felt was just marvelous.” After his term of service was over, Joel and his wife Linda decided to settle in Albuquerque because it had everything they wanted, especially the University of New Mexico.
Dr. Laurence Shandler: Dr. Laurence Shandler was born and raised in New York City. He was received medical education at the Albany Medical College, which oriented him to Boston for his career. But his decision to join the Indian Health Service to avoid serving in the military during the Vietnam War changed his frame of reference. Dr. Sandler spent two years as a doctor in Tohatchi on the Navajo Reservation. It was a rewarding, enjoyable, and educational experience. He learned to appreciate that Western medicine could not heal spiritual and emotional ailments. Instead, his patients sought out the singing cure provided by Navajo medicine men.
Dr. Shandler was appointed as the official physician at the famous Gallup Ceremonial. After his term of service, Larry began his medical practice in Boston. But Larry missed the camping and the outdoors that were so accessible in the Southwest. He finally convinced his wife Joan to return to New Mexico and they compromised on Santa Fe as their home. Larry and Joan loved attending local rodeos, which were an important part pf life in rural New Mexico. Larry learned once a Native American cowboy paid his entry fee, he would not allow being thrown from a horse or bull to pull out of the rodeo. Since settling in Santa Fe the Shandlers have been active in Temple Beth Shalom.