Reflections on a career marked by care, compassion and a straightforward approach
Dr. Alice Ferdinand was a local legend long before many of those reading this were even born. As one of Peoria’s pioneer pediatricians, she retired in 1991 after 50 years of caring for children, and volunteered at the Heartland Clinic until 2000. She cared for thousands of children during her career, and was loved and respected by all who knew her. Dr. Ferdinand celebrated her 100th birthday on May 12th, and recently had a chance to reflect on her career.
A Straight Shooter
Growing up on a farm in southwestern Oklahoma, the oldest of nine, Dr. Ferdinand really didn’t give much thought—or choice—to going to medical school. “It was my mother’s idea for me to be a doctor. She said, ‘You’re going to medical school,’ and that was it!”
Dr. Ferdinand graduated from med school in 1938, one of only two women in her class of 50. She trained in both pediatrics and infectious disease. “Most women then went into pediatrics or general medicine,” she recalls. In 1941, she came to Peoria to work at the TB sanitarium, before joining Dr. Orville Barbour’s pediatric practice. She was the only female pediatrician in the area during that time. “I never felt singled out.”
She eventually moved into her own office off north Knoxville Avenue. Her nurse, Maxine, was with her the entire time. Dr. Ferdinand ran her own practice while also being a wife and mother, raising two sons.
Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Bill Albers arrived in Peoria in 1967 and recalls his early days working with Dr. Ferdinand. “She was no-nonsense; a straight shooter. She had to be sure I was okay; I had to earn her trust.” And he must have made a good impression: “I was very impressed with Dr. Albers,” remembers Dr. Ferdinand. “He was very professional and smart.”
Both recall a different era of medicine, when physicians made daily visits to the hospital—day and night—and had weekend calls. “We saw newborns, all ages, emergencies, everything,” Dr. Albers says. He even recalls stopping to see Dr. Ferdinand in her office at the end of the day, “and there she was, mopping her own floors!” Dr. Ferdinand chuckles at the memory and how she wanted to “make sure it was done right.”
Dr. Albers remembers her straightforward approach, especially when dealing with nervous new mothers. “There was one young mom, worried that her child wasn’t potty-trained. Dr. Ferdinand simply looked at her and said, ‘Well, then train her!’ It was just that simple.”
Celebrating a Centennial
To celebrate her milestone birthday, Children’s Hospital of Illinois and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center encouraged former patients and others to send cards or post messages on their Facebook pages, which were compiled and presented to Dr. Ferdinand (who still lives independently in her house with the help of caregivers. Her husband died in 2000). There were more than 430 responses!
The comments speak volumes about Dr. Ferdinand’s care, compassion and straightforward approach for her patients, decades after she retired:
The one instance that stands out the most was when our middle daughter woke up one Sunday morning with a 104° fever. I called your office… you called me back within 10 minutes and said "Meet me in my office in 20 minutes" on a Sunday! That was incredible to me.
When I had my youngest daughter, both my doctor and I thought I was having a boy. So we didn't have any girl names picked. The next morning you came to my hospital room and said, "You need to give this baby a name." I told you I couldn't decide. Your response was, "What are your choices?" I said Lindsay and Megan. You said, "She doesn't look like a Lindsay… How do you want to spell Megan?"
My mother said 100 times during my childhood how much you calmed her down, gave her sound advice and helped raise us. I think you had a profound effect on me in my professional life later—seeing such an accomplished woman in such a demanding profession. You are an amazing person.
Happy 100th to a long-lasting local legend, Dr. Alice Ferdinand! iBi
Shelli Dankoff is senior media relations specialist for OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.