Interview with Rachel Weiss, MD
A Conversation with Rachel Weiss, Assistant Clinical Professor
Where were you born and raised? What is your family background and how far back do you know of it?
I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. My parents both grew up on the East Coast and moved there for medical training—they are both physicians and I've had to dash rumors over the years that Heme/Onc is genetic. My dad's family comes from a little town in Hungary called Munkacs where our surname, Weiss, originates and my dad is obsessive about tracking where other people named Weiss are from. Weiss is a German word that means "white" and, appropriately, we tend to be very pale on my dad's side! My mom's family is a little more unusual and they've confirmed that a few are from Russia…one uncle was English. On both sides, most everyone came to the United States in the 1800s long before World War II. My dad's grandfather had fourteen children and lived in Yonkers, New York, where there was a large Irish community. He had bright red hair and because his name was Mikhail, they called him Mike. The Eastern European roots are strong. I have a younger brother and he is an engineer. We are very different in our approach to life: I am Type A and he is Type B. We always thought that he would be a bum because he just played video games, and now he works at Xbox and has all the cool toys and makes more money than me!
Can you share an early memory, an anecdote that illustrates your family dynamic? Or a happy moment that always makes you smile?
We went on a trip to Colorado when I was in the sixth grade, and we went on a whitewater rafting trip. My dad fly-fishes and has always been on or around water—so he was comfortable. My mom had my little brother's lifevest rope wrapped around her wrist because he kept straining to touch the water, and there is a choice photo of me jumping off a cliff into the water with my ponytail flying straight up in the air. That seems to illustrate our family dynamic quite well.
Who knows you best and is your go-to person for all things good and not so? What qualities about this person do you most cherish?
I have two friends from college who have very different personalities. One in particular approaches issues in a different way and I find her perspective valuable. I go to her for things that I struggle with because she is so thoughtful about discussing choices. The other friend is more like my mom, she is very blunt and she tells it like it is. She tells me when I am being a jerk—never, ever in judgment, always from a place of love. We are still very close even though one lives in New York and the other in New Jersey.
How do you visualize your goals, both professional and personal?
I tend to be very future-focused and fast. My family has always told me to slow down or I'd miss things. So I try to consciously take a step back, out and away, to give myself time to think. I think we miss opportunities when we're moving so fast. I don't have a great strategy and I don't write plans down. I've found the best-laid plans are those that get disrupted the most frequently, or when things go "wrong." I tend to think 1–2 years ahead, and if I encounter an opportunity that seems a little different or slightly off of my path, I like taking those because that's how I learn. Getting into Hospital Medicine was such a happy accident because my original idea was either Critical Care or Rheumatology.
Do you have an offbeat talent or skill?
I play the oboe, although not as much as when I was younger, and played in competitive orchestras in high school and some in college.
Can you recall a conversation with someone, whose opinion was radically different from yours? What was its upshot?
I was in Turkey, with a friend from Residency, three weeks before the political climate drastically changed. We were sitting at an outdoor beer garden watching soccer, and some people at a nearby table struck up a conversation and were surprised that we were American. One of the Turks asked if we were missionaries and I, for whatever reason, said, "No, I am Jewish." He got really wide-eyed and then asked, "Do you have the keys to the vault?" It took me a few moments to realize that he was alluding to the mistaken belief that Jews throughout history have often been thought to be wealthy and somehow hidden that fact. I responded that I hadn't any keys and he then "reassured" me, "Don't worry, your husband will." I wasn't offended but was struck because I have always lived in diverse communities and never really thought of myself as being different either religiously or culturally. It was a momentary and surprising cultural exchange that took me aback.
Describe the best savory and sweet foods you've ever eaten: Who made them?
My favorite savory food in memory is my grandmother's roast chicken, something that made the whole house smell delicious. She was an amazing cook. My favorite sweet thing—at least at that time—was putting an entire fruit roll-up on my finger and eating it off after dinner. My mom taught me how to cook and, looking back, I am amazed at how she came home, made dinner, and then finished all of her other work as a physician. Because I helped so much, I can't make food for just one or two people—I somehow manage to cook for four or five every time..
What do you appreciate that people share with you?
I like being the person that other people feel that they can come to with things that are bothering them. I like being there for people. There is something beautiful about everyone. I remember, back in high school, thinking how useless it is to be judgmental and I internalized that belief. I like being the recipient of other people's reflections of themselves.
What is an impulse that you can never resist?
My mom would say correcting people, but I resent that. It's that I can never resist eating like half the cookie dough while making chocolate chip cookies. Never. So I make them a lot.
Do you have a personal anthem, a song that you feel was written about your outlook on life?
I grew up listening to 1960s and 1970s music because that's what my parents loved. My first album that I ever bought was Paul Simon. I enjoy the rhythms of all of his songs and they always make me happy. I love "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" because I think it encapsulates much about the assumptions we make and how we often try to change in only superficial ways.
Delightful, Rachel, thank you.