As I was growing up, my family didn’t have what I would call “normal” dinner conversations. While other kids’ parents were asking questions about basketball practice and violin lessons, my parents were discussing blood cultures and stroke symptoms. Soon, my sister joined in with an interesting story about stool while my brothers and I twirled our pasta and ignored the gross parts.
When friends came over to dinner, I’d say the same thing to each of them: “Mine is a family of doctors.”
See, a lot of my family members are in the medical profession and, while I never felt much pressure to join the pack, that didn’t stop the Mendelson-Levines from creating a medical empire, complete with late-night phone calls questioning everything from a splinter to a heart attack to casting a broken arm in the kitchen before school.
It all started with my zadie, Herb Mendelson, the father and grandfather to inspire us all. According to my grandmother, Phyllis Mendelson, you don’t have to search hard to see why he inspires so many. “Look at him,” she says. “He takes care of everybody.”
Following in my zadie’s footsteps was my mom, Diane Levine, and my uncle, David Mendelson. Soon, my other uncle, Jeffrey, and another, Steve, put on some scrubs. Then Uncle Steve married Aunt Alice, another doctor. And somewhere along the way, my mom married my dad, Donald Levine, another doctor, and had my sister, Miriam Levine, who became, you guessed it, another M.D.
For those of you keeping track, that’s eight doctors across three generations. And if you ask my cousins Ella and Shira Mendelson they’re not necessarily averse to the medical profession, either. If they stay on the medical path, that would bring the Mendelson-Levine total doctor count to 10 doctors, four generations and a lot of “An apple a day can’t keep the doctors away from me” jokes that stopped pleasing crowds around generation two.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Herb Mendelson graduated medical school in 1958 and finished his residency in 1964. He then went on to create Orthopedic Surgeons PC, which went through many iterations before becoming its current name and practice, Mendelson Kornblum Orthopedic and Spine Specialists.
All of my uncles and my aunt help to complete the Mendelson side of the Mendelson Kornblum Orthopedic and Spine Specialists practice, helping to perform many of Southeast Michigan’s broken bone surgeries, hip replacements and more.
“For me to join a family of orthopedic surgeons was quite fascinating,” says Dr. Alice Mendelson. “I was very proud to join them because I thought they gave quality care and treated people with state-of-the-art treatments that were both advanced and proven to be effective. I was happy to follow in their steps.”
My mom, Diane, took another route, entering the medical profession as an internist and professor of medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. When asked, she said she became a doctor for the usual three reasons. “One: I was good in science. Two: I like people. Three: I wanted to make a difference in the world by helping people.” She continued to say, “But the real reason is that I wanted to be just like my dad. Every day my dad came home excited about his day. He shared wonderful stories about how he made people feel better, and I wanted to be him. And that’s the truth.”
My dad, Donald, an infectious disease doctor and also a professor of medicine, worked with my mom at the WSU School of Medicine. Both of my parents helped inspire my sister’s journey because she also became an infectious disease doctor, and she loves teaching medicine just as much as she loves teaching my niece how to brush her hair and my nephew how to say “dog.”
I won’t say my sister is already head first into trying to get her children to become doctors, but I will say my niece is barely 4 and she has at least one set of scrubs and a few doctor kits on hand, just in case.
As for the rest of my family, even the ones who were not interested in medicine were inspired by our family’s work ethic and incredible passion for helping others. Dr. Jeffrey Mendelson’s daughter, Lily, said, “Having doctors in the family showed me how medical knowledge could open doors for me in other places rather than the medical field.”
For the non-medically inclined, the long hours spent waiting at the hospital for a family member to “just see one more patient” were worth it to experience a smiling face praising a dad, aunt, uncle or grandfather for replacing a hip and allowing a person to walk again or helping someone through an infection.
It’s those moments that make the late nights, the midnight phone calls, the plaster-filled kitchens and the odd dinner conversations with a crazy family of doctors who wear scrubs like they’re going out of style all worth it.
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To my dozens of cousins in medicine or not, thanks for being my family. And to my zadie, happy 60th anniversary as a doctor. Look what you’ve created.
Hannah Levine is the JN’s digital/social media editor — and not a doctor!