From Summer Job to Pediatrician

Dr. Favre shares activist spirit with her mentor and boss, Dr. Schonfeld
The first job Jennifer Favre, right, held in Gail Schonfeld’s East End Pediatrics was in the front office. Twelve years later, now a pediatrician herself, she has joined Dr. Schonfeld, left, on the medical side of the practice. Johnette Howard

The working relationship between Dr. Gail Schonfeld and Dr. Jennifer Favre that has transformed East End Pediatrics began 12 years ago, when Dr. Favre was just a college student — and can be credited in no small part to the pediatricians’ bookkeeper. Sometimes the small things are how the big things happen.

The bookkeeper in question happened to be the cousin of Dr. Favre, who had grown up in New Jersey dreaming of becoming a doctor. By the time she was a college sophomore, she had decided she would concentrate on helping children and set her sights on becoming a pediatrician. Her cousin recommended her to her boss, Dr. Schonfeld, and young Jennifer came out to work in the front office.

Dr. Schonfeld’s mentorship of Dr. Favre, which blossomed over many summers and through many initiatives to meet the needs of a patient population that in many cases could be described as underprivileged, came to fruition in June as Dr. Favre, now 32, graduated from medical school. In July, she joined the East End Pediatrics practice as a full-fledged pediatrician. 

Dr. Favre said she shares the proactive ideal of “community pediatrics” that Dr. Schonfeld has practiced here for more than 30 years.

“I knew I needed to recruit physicians,” said Dr. Schonfeld. “She was always very committed . . . ”

“. . . and so, she played the long game,” Dr. Favre said with a laugh.

Dr. Schonfeld laughed herself at that, and added that she and Dr. Favre have been working together for so long they “actually finish each other’s sentences.” 

Dr. Favre said she took some ribbing from her fellow medical school graduates when she told them she was taking a job in East Hampton. 

“People think of the Hamptons and they said, ‘Ooooh, fancy,’ ” Dr. Favre said. “When I went to medical school and residency and was deciding what I wanted out of my career, I knew there’s a different level of commitment to your patient in this practice that is not common out in the world. You know, we’re open seven days a week. We see patients on an emergency basis, when need be. We have walk-in hours in the morning. We have same-day sick appointments every day. If a patient needs to be seen and they have an emergency — they need stitches, the baby has a sickness, whatever the reason is — that patient is seen. That patient is not turfed off to the emergency room or sent to an urgent-care facility.” 

“Gail has always advised all of her patients that this is their medical home. You come into the practice, we will take care of you. If you have a question, you get one of four physicians on the phone within a matter of minutes, 24 hours a day. When we’re not here at night, somebody still calls them back. . . . That’s something you can’t find everywhere. And that’s the kind of medicine I want to practice.”

Dr. Schonfeld said that 58 percent of her patients are from families on Medicaid. Dr. Favre says she has never seen Dr. Schonfeld turn a patient away. 

Over the years, Dr. Schonfeld has enlisted her protégée to work on a succession of projects, over the summer or when  she had weeks off during her residency. Dr. Favre worked at the Pantigo Place practice during a gap year after getting a master’s degree in public health, then headed to medical school on the island of Grenada before finishing her residency in Brooklyn. She also got married in the middle of all that.

Dr. Schonfeld said that no matter where Dr. Favre’s travels took her, “She’s always come back. She needed the money during college and I needed her skills.”

Dr. Schonfeld was one of the early converts to an electronic medical-records system that uses “scribes” — employees who accompany patients during their entire doctor visit, from intake paperwork to the examination to the noting of follow-up appointments. Dr. Favre was her first scribe, and later trained five more scribes who entered medical schools themselves. 

Dr. Schonfeld is very proud of a series of need-based community programs she has initiated and executed with Dr. Favre’s help. She and Dr. Favre, smiling, referred to the series as “dental, mental, rental”: Seeing a “huge need” for dental care among her young patients, Dr. Schonfeld created a nonprofit 10 years ago to help them get coverage. That group still exists. Later, wanting to address their psychological and emotional needs, she worked to create a work group of licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists to brainstorm and assess what could be done. That resulted in her hiring a staff of five mental health-care professionals who share the office space in East Hampton.

“They’re fully integrated into my practice and see only our patients on the basis of patients we refer to them,” Dr. Schonfeld said.

Affordable housing is the next issue Dr. Schonfeld and Dr. Favre are thinking about. “There’s always a project,” Dr. Favre said.

But, for now, in addition to celebrating Dr. Favre’s official arrival as a staff M.D., the two are celebrating something else Dr. Schonfeld just pulled off. Two years ago, she decided she wanted to do something to help her patients get to the medical building on Pantigo Place. Many of the parents do not own cars. She wrote letters to the town, to legislators, to everyone in power she thought might help. “I heard nothing,” she said. 

Or she heard nothing until she agitated to get an article published in Newsday talking about how a private donor had temporarily funded a summerlong bus service for patients who did not have transportation to their medical appointments.

“It was a very intentional public shaming,” Dr. Schonfeld said, only half joking.

“And it worked,” Dr. Favre said.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming saw the Newsday story, investigated, and learned that bus routes on the East End had not changed in 20 years.

On Aug. 1, the Metropolitan Transit Authority buses started dropping patients off at the doorstep of the building that houses East End Pediatrics and a cluster of other medical services.

“It’s my latest coup,” Dr. Schonfeld said.