Humanist in Medicine and Life

Einstein Graduate and Einstein Parent, Shelly L. Ludwig, M.D. ’74, supports student education in medicine, investing in our future health and community cohesion

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Dr. Shelly Ludwig grew up in Brooklyn, southern Massachusetts, Queens, and Long Island, and upon graduating from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1974, he was ready for new horizons. “Given that the grass always looks greener on the other side, my wife of three years and I headed for the Left Coast,” he said. At Harbor General Hospital in Torrance, California, he completed an internship and a residency in internal medicine, followed by a fellowship in gastroenterology at the University of California, Los Angeles/Wadsworth VA Hospital.

A few years later, he was back on the Right Coast. “Growing up in the East, you had close families, you had friends, you had neighborhoods,” he said. “For me, L.A. was a melting pot for people looking to become stars, a transient population. I socialized with a few physicians, but people barely knew their neighbors. It was not what I was used to.” Furthermore, at UCLA, a private hospital, “attendings would tell me how to care for my patients,” he said. He had been more comfortable at Harbor General, a county hospital, where he was in charge of his own patients’ care.

By 1979, Dr. Ludwig was an instructor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. To supplement his income—“the pay scale was terrible, and we were now a family with two kids,” he said—he went into private practice and over the years rose to acting chief of the division of gastroenterology at the medical school and staff physician at the University hospital.

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A Humanist in Medicine and Life

Throughout, Dr. Ludwig researched inflammatory bowel disease, hepatitis C, nutritional support/hyperalimentation, and gut immunology—but his real love was caring for patients. “One thing that attracted me to GI was that the specialty not only included procedures like endoscopies and colonoscopies but all aspects of medical care,” he said. “I liked the challenge of treating inflammatory bowel disease, especially ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.” If patients didn’t improve after surgery and became depressed, Dr. Ludwig would call upon his undergraduate degree in psychology to help them.

Dr. Ludwig retired in April 2023. “I got lovely cards from patients who said they doubted they could find another doctor as caring as I was,” he said. “Medicine is no longer a doctor/patient interaction, it’s a doctor/computer interaction. One patient told me, ‘You’re the only physician I’ve spoken to who actually talks to me.’”

Passing It On

Dr. Ludwig’s humanism is now evident in a family member well known in the Einstein community: his daughter, Allison Ludwig, M.D. ’04, associate professor of medicine (hospital medicine) and associate dean for student affairs. “When she was younger, I used to take her on rounds, and she really enjoyed it,” he said. After considering several different career paths, “she finally came to the conclusion that she wanted to care for patients like I did,” he said. She entered Einstein in the fall of 2000, graduated with the Class of 2004, and after a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, returned to Einstein as junior faculty. As an Einstein parent, Dr. Ludwig Senior had the pleasure of seeing his daughter rise through the ranks to her current position. “She does clinical work, makes wonderful diagnoses, and spends two weeks twice a year with interns and residents at Jacobi Hospital,” he said. Her research interests include medical student burnout and resiliency, optimizing the medical student learning environment, and improving group communication skills among medical students. Her specialty, hospital medicine, is just different enough from her dad’s to make for interesting conversation.

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A Connection That Endures

Back in the 1960s, “I chose Einstein because it was prestigious,” said Dr. Ludwig. “My interviewer was a down-to-earth biologist who made me feel comfortable. The Bronx was a great area, and being a diehard Yankee fan, I had no question about which medical school to attend.”

Since returning to the East Coast, Dr. Ludwig has missed few reunions. He has volunteered as a mentor. And for decades he has quietly contributed to the College’s Annual Fund. He explains: “I grew up poor—my father was a cake salesman—and my parents pushed me for years to become a doctor. I was the first physician in the family, and they were very proud of me. ‘My son, the doctor’—it’s the old story.” Dr. Ludwig’s story is now “My daughter, the doctor.” “I give to Einstein’s Annual Fund in her honor,” he said. “As associate dean for student affairs, she contributes so much to the education and development of our future generation of physicians. I give because I believe student education in medicine is so vital to our future health and community cohesion—my donations may help less fortunate generations and bring more harmony to different ethnic, religious, and racial groups. I give because I have been blessed with the solid education I received at Einstein and am honored to be on the list of donors who help to strengthen the institution.” His steadfast support of Einstein speaks to his gratitude.