The Freilich Legacy: Three Generations at Downstate
It is not every day that you encounter a family dedicated to medicine; the Freilichs are that family. Drs. Herbert and Aaron Freilich (Class of 1956 and 1989 respectively), along with Michael Freilich, COM ’22 are three generations with a love for not only medicine but SUNY Downstate as well.
Starting in the 1950s, the legacy began with Dr. Herbert Freilich. At the age of 20, he began his medical journey, traveling from East 13th street here in Brooklyn to school. Though his love for math, science, and learning sparked an interest in medicine long before his years in medical school, it was perhaps his commitment to living a healthy lifestyle and compassion for his family and others that led him to Downstate.
While in medical school, Dr. H. Freilich was taught by teachers who in his words “inspired [him] to learn and to always reach for the top”. His teachers and lifelong friendships added to the overall friendly atmosphere of Downstate, which at the time had a male-dominated student ratio. After graduating from Downstate, Dr. H Freilich attended Columbia University, where he received a Masters degree in Health Administration. He began working for the HHC in Health Administration and completed his residency at Maimonides Hospital.
Dr. H. Freilich’s passion for medicine encouraged his eldest son, Dr. Aaron Freilich to follow in his footsteps right back to the place where it all began. From 1985 to 1989 Dr. A. Freilich experienced “some of the best years of [his] life”. Like his father, he made lifelong friendships with classmates from his years at SUNY Downstate. In fact, he and his classmates are in constant contact via text, where they run cases by each other, share family stories, and even comment on sports. His experiences with his classmates greatly contributed to his fondest memories at Downstate. As the work became difficult and hours grew longer, the Class of 1989’s bond grew stronger. They worked hard and made it to the other side together.
SUNY Downstate’s rigorous courses and hands-on training prepared Dr. A Freilich for his internship at Mount Sinai Hospital. While an intern he was surrounded by medical school graduates from Ivy League institutions, but he did not feel intimidated in the least bit, because Downstate had prepared him for it. Not only did Downstate prepare him for his internship, it prepared him for his career in cardiology. His interactions with Dr. Vincent Fisher in his second year of medical school influenced his decision to pursue cardiology. Dr. Fisher was “passionate and had a phenomenal way of teaching and relating to the students”, so much so that Dr. Freilich fell in love with his lectures.
Long after his years at Downstate, Dr. A. Freilich states that he has had the privilege to be a physician with the academic fulfillment and professional satisfaction of helping people, a passion he shares with his father. Like his father, he remains grateful to Downstate for the background he was afforded, a background that has allowed him to be successful in four specialties and subspecialties.
The love for medicine, however, was not instant across all generations. Dr. Aaron Freilich’s son, Michael, now first-year College of Medicine student, had his mind set on finance, even though his father suggested taking science courses while in college at Binghamton University- to see if any would spark any interest in medicine. Michael declined and eventually started working for Goldman Sachs. After a year Michael realized that like his father and grandfather he too had a passion for medicine. Once he realized his passion, his father did not want him to attend any other school. Downstate had been so important to their family.
For Michael, being a legacy gives him “a great sense of pride as [he walks] through the halls of Downstate”. He describes attending Downstate, the same institution that started the careers of his father and grandfather as a dream come true. Though he his unsure of the specialty he will pursue, he looks forward to the daily learning opportunities, from SUNY Downstate’s excellent faculty and starting rotations in the hospital. As for the pressure that comes with being a legacy, Michael does not feel any. He prides himself on his work ethic, something he learned from both his father and grandfather. His work ethic and mantra “as long as I try my absolute best, I will be able to live with the result” will undoubtedly allow him to forge his own path at Downstate. He plans to take advice from those who were here before him but he will ultimately make decisions that he feels are best suited for him, as he realizes that being at Downstate is a “blessing”. Being at SUNY Downstate, he says, is an opportunity that he will make the most of.
Dr. Aaron Freilich with his son Michael Freilich, COM ’22 at Michael’s White Coat Ceremony
Dr. Herbert Freilich’s wife, Myra Freilich would like to share, “Downstate has always had a wonderful Alumni Association and she enjoyed the Downstate dinners that we attended.”
The Alumni Association would like to thank the Freilich family for sharing their story. We wish Michael success on his journey to becoming a doctor!