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Lillian Seitsive, 98; Longtime Physician in Northridge

September 30, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Lillian Paula Seitsive, who practiced medicine for 66 years and was one of the founders and a longtime trustee of the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, has died. She was 98.

Seitsive died Saturday in Northridge after a long illness.

In 2000, the woman who challenged barriers of both gender and age became the first female doctor and the first doctor in Los Angeles County to win the California Medical Assn.'s Frederick Plessner Memorial Award. The honor is presented annually to a physician who "best exemplifies the practice and ethics of a rural practitioner."

In 1953, Seitsive and her first husband, Dr. Morris Rood, had to shoo away chickens before turning the first shovel of dirt for their new office at Reseda Boulevard and Rayen Street. The area was covered with dirt roads, walnut fields, poultry farms and ranches, she said, and the doctors could look out their office window to see people riding horses along Reseda Boulevard.

Rood died in 1960, but Seitsive practiced in that office until her 94th birthday, May 19, 2000.

"I still love my work," she had told Medical Economics magazine a few months earlier. "When I get up each morning, I look forward to going to work and making people feel better."

Seitsive refused to join any health maintenance organizations, a stance that turned away many patients.

"I don't believe in managed care, and I'm not going to change the way I practice because of it," she told Medical Economics. "I'm not going to push my patients through every 10 minutes, like some HMO doctors do. That's not good medicine. I take as much time as I want with them."

In 1955, Seitsive helped establish what began as the 49-bed Northridge Hospital. She also helped launch the Music Center, University of Judaism and Simon Wiesenthal Center. In addition to serving as trustee of the hospital, she was on the board of governors of her synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom, where she finally had her bat mitzvah at age 75.

Along with her husband, she was an enthusiastic supporter of Cal State Northridge from the time of its founding in 1958. She donated $60,000 in 1992 to build a lecture hall for deaf students.

Born in New York City to poor Russian Jewish immigrants, she was the eighth of 10 children. Seitsive decided to become a doctor at age 5 when her last brother -- like three others before him -- died of a disease. She promised her father she would do what a son would do -- become a doctor and bring honor to the family name.

After graduating from New York University at age 20, Seitsive taught for a year to earn money for medical school -- and won admission in 1927 to Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. Fees were hard to come by, and Seitsive sold millinery and worked as a nurse's aide, while her father cashed in his life insurance to help her.

When she graduated in 1931, according to archives of her alma mater, she was one of only 217 female physicians in the U.S. Now about one-fourth of the profession is made up of women.

It was never easy. When she was a schoolgirl, her classmates laughed at her intention to be a doctor. And in 1931, when she was the lone woman standing in a line of 300 applicants for a scarce medical internship, a competitor sneered: "Don't you know women belong in the kitchen?"

She took the exam anyway and qualified as one of 20 interns at New York's Coney Island Hospital.

A man who comforted her in the line, noting that her tormentor "always runs his mouth," became an intern at the same hospital. She married him, and they practiced general medicine in Brooklyn from 1934 until they moved to Northridge in 1953. Seitsive liked the climate in the San Fernando Valley and thought it would help her back problems.

Remembering her promise to her father, she remained Dr. Seitsive through her marriage to Rood, and later to M. Robert Epstein, who died in 1990.

Seitsive's son, Dr. Robert Rood, preceded her in death. She is survived by her daughter, Madeline Taft, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be sent to one of three institutions: Lillian Seitsive Endowment, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; Northridge Hospital Foundation in Northridge; or Boys Town Jerusalem, 12 W. 31st St. Suite 300, New York, N.Y. 10001.

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