Fairfield Now - Summer 2008
Class of '94 profile
Dr. Rockman Ferrigno: Changing course
By Meredith Guinness
Anyone who thinks a core curriculum is too restrictive should take a look at the education and career of Dr. Rockman Ferrigno '94. After working summers at his family business, the Bridgeport landmark Treeland, Ferrigno entered Fairfield University sure that in four years he'd leave with an accounting degree and his sights set on a business career.
Things shifted a bit when he earned a spot on the America's Cup team in 1992 and took a whirlwind year off to compete with the 16-member team that eventually won the storied competition. On board, he met Dr. Robert Leach, a noted orthopedist who waxed poetic about his life as a physician. "I thought, ‘He's really a great guy and he seems to love what he's doing'," Ferrigno said. "The idea (of being a physician) really grew on me."
Back on campus, he strolled over to Dr. Don Ross' office in the biology department and said he'd like to be a doctor. "He looked at me like I had three heads," Ferrigno said, laughing. But Dr. Ross set to work helping the determined young man make it happen. Twenty-five new courses later, Ferrigno earned his accounting degree and snagged an interview at Yale University School of Medicine, where he graduated in 2001.
Ferrigno did his residency at Yale, but he's spent the last few years back at home, if you will, working as a staff physician in the emergency room at Bridgeport Hospital, where it's not uncommon for him to treat people he's known since his days selling Christmas trees at Treeland. As a relatively new doctor, he said he appreciates the hospital's size.
"The nice thing about Bridgeport is there's a big hospital behind you," he said. "If you have a heart case, you can call the cardiologist. If you need a neurologist, they're there. It allows you to really care for the patient."
Ferrigno's ability to put his patients at ease hasn't gone unnoticed: He recently won the hospital's Making a Difference Physician of the Year Award, which is based on thank-you notes and compliments from patients and colleagues.
"I do a lot of laughing with patients. I like to learn about them," said Ferrigno, who sees everything from "hangnails to heart attacks" on any given shift. "It's a real humbling experience. If you see 30 patients in a shift, you're living 30 patients' lives." He credits the Jesuits and professors he met at Fairfield for modeling that type of deep compassion. "I'm Jewish and I never felt they were overbearing about religion. They were just very caring," said Ferrigno, who also attended Fairfield Prep. "It was a nice community experience."
Ferrigno's sailing skills won him three more bids on America's Cup yachts, though his first would be his only win. He doesn't compete anymore, but he has plenty to do in his spare time: He and his wife, Abbi, own and operate Rabbit Hill Farm in Newtown, where they are raising their six-year-old daughter Isabella. The hunter/jumper farm boards top horses, and Ferrigno often finds himself driving a tractor-trailer full of champions to competitions in Kentucky or points throughout the country. Getting the horses - and their gear, grain, hay, and support staff - safely to venues often takes the same skills he employs in the ER. "The logistics of it can be daunting," he said. "You're not shipping a bag of fertilizer. You're shipping something live."
Though it isn't where he set out to be at age 18, Ferrigno said he's pleased how his life turned out. He's able to raise his daughter in the magical realm that is a farm and challenge himself and connect with others at work. "It really is a neat profession," he said. "When do you have a better chance to make somebody feel better?"