Living in pre-war Germany presented even the most ordinary citizen with numerous trials and tribulations, but Inga Frenkel was anything but ordinary. Born on December 24, 1914, to Richard and Erna Frenkel, Inga already had the odds for success, and survival, stacked against her. She was a woman, a German, and a Jew.
Still very young, Inga lost her mother due to blood poisoning following what had been a successful kidney removal. “Today my mother would not have died, but then there was no medicine,“ she recalls. As one would expect, this unfortunate event affected Inga profoundly. She became afraid of death and decided, at the age of 12, to fight it and become a doctor.
After completing her undergraduate education in Germany, Inga continued her medical education in Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. In 1938, she had completed nearly eight semesters at the University of Prague when Germany invaded Austria. She knew that Czechoslovakia would not be far behind. With the help of relatives who lived in the United States, she immigrated to New York City followed shortly by her father and younger sister.
Although her living situation had drastically improved, Inga’s medical education was still an uphill battle. “I had hoped to get into medical school by the fall of ’39, but that did not materialize,” recollects Inga. Admission to a grade A medical school was hard to come by for those who were not white Christian males. After being rejected by every medical school she applied to in both the United States and Canada, Inga had all but lost hope of ever completing her degree. It was not until 1945 when Inga unexpectedly received a telegram from the University of Utah accepting her as a third year student in their School of Medicine. The war in Europe had just ended, Japan was soon to surrender, and Inga “was in seventh heaven.” Inga’s world was looking promising again.
Inga was astonished that not only was she admitted into medical school but as soon as she walked through the doors she was allowed to see patients. “In Europe you only saw patients after having completed your studies and passed all examinations.”
During her senior year, Inga married Kurt Weil and after pausing briefly in her career to give birth to a son, she opened her own medical office in New York City. After practicing family medicine for 15 years, she decided to seek further training in psychiatry and, since 1968, has maintained a private psychiatric and clinic practice.
Inga retired at the age of 84 but continues to be very involved in the medical world. She attributes her success to her alma mater, the University of Utah, and has since established the Richard Frenkel Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Utah School of Medicine to support promising female medical students who “persevere in their medical studies in the face of obstacles.” She has also made plans through her estate to establish the S. Kurt Weil and Inga F. Weil, M.D. Fellowship in Oncology.
Never has a woman’s struggle to achieve her dreams been more inspiring. Like her alma mater, she has never stopped growing and exploring new horizons.