Baby by Baby
The specialty of reproductive endocrinology
has come a long way, baby. In the 30 plus years since its
infancy, success rates have soared.
Gerson Weiss, MD, professor and chair, Obstetrics,
Gynecology and Women's Health at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical
For a kid from Brooklyn's rough-and-tumble
Lafayette High School, Gerson Weiss has run the mile. It was
in this very locale that the 1975 TV hit Welcome Back Kotter
was filmed and that John Travolta made his debut as the streetwise
cutup Vinnie Barbarino. Former Sweathog Gabe Kotter, 10 years
post graduation, returns to his alma mater to teach the new
generation of bad boys how to survive in the school's hallowed
halls. Their antics generate lots of laughs, but no academic
Not so for Lafayette alum Weiss, who took
his high school diploma and New York state scholarship and
kept moving. "Only 10 percent of the graduates from Lafayette
went on to college," he says. "Academically, it wasn't on
anyone's radar screen."
He remembers feeling a bit like a fish out
of water - the public school guy in the private school setting
- when he entered New York University's School of Liberal
Arts, but that was short-lived. By the time he graduated with
high honors in 1960, he was clearly set on a trajectory to
Weiss earned his medical degree from New York
University School of Medicine in 1964, and completed a medical
internship at Baltimore City Hospital in 1965 and an obstetrics
and gynecology residency at NYU-Bellevue Medical Center in
1969. He chose to dive into a field where little was known
at the time. "I like to figure out how things work," he comments.
The endocrine system, particularly the human menstrual cycle,
became his focus, and he came out of his residency as author
of seven publications.
Weiss served two years in the U.S. Army Medical
Corps, attaining the rank of major, before beginning a post-doctoral
research fellowship in physiology at the University of Pittsburgh
in 1971. He worked in the lab of highly esteemed physiologist
Ernst Knobil, whose research on the neuroendocrine control
of the ovarian cycle in the rhesus monkey became the "model
for the human menstrual cycle and the physiologic basis for
the design of fertility and birth control agents."
But beyond Weiss' interest in the subject
matter, he "learned the scientific method and critical thinking."
"Those two years were tough training," he
recalls. "Many didn't make it, but for me it was a great experience."
He not only survived, but left Pittsburgh with 13 scientific
publications to his name. He earned board certification in
obstetrics/gynecology in 1971 and in the new subspecialty
of reproductive endocrinology three years later.
Back in New York, he joined the faculty of
NYU School of Medicine, where he was a teacher, researcher
and clinician for 15 years and was appointed professor of
OB/GYN in 1980 and professor of pharmacology in 1981. He built
a large practice specializing in infertility and hormonal
problems and published extensively on his major research focus,
relaxin. Weiss' lab is credited with the discovery that relaxin
is a human hormone. Understanding exactly what role it plays
in the life of the female reproductive cycle became a passion
that has earned him more than 30 years of continuous funding
from the NIH and publication of more than 200 scientific articles.
There was no middle ground in his career,
says Weiss, who catapulted from junior scientist to recognized
researcher and expert in female reproductive physiology in
In 1985, Weiss took the professional leap
across the river to build a credible OB/GYN training program
and reproductive endocrinology center at UMDNJ-New Jersey
Medical School. "There wasn't much there, so it could only
build upward," he comments. And upward it built.
In vitro was just coming of age at the time
and Weiss' clinical program moved quickly with the changing
specialty, providing the newest treatments for developmental
anomalies of the reproductive tract, and ovulation and hormonal
problems. In this field, there are no halfway successes. Pregnancy
with a resulting live birth is the goal and success is easily
measured. His program proved highly successful.
Weiss says he has had the rare good fortune
to straddle two very different worlds. "When I was a resident,
we couldn't measure hormones, didn't know how hormones related,
had minimal tools for triggering ovulation, had low success
rates in repairing abnormalities that result in infertility.
Thirty years ago, one shoe fit everyone," he recalls. "Now
we individualize therapy and our success rates are high. We
do less and less surgery because nonsurgical approaches work."
While the specialty has undergone a sea change
for the better, Weiss worries that students don't have as
much enthusiasm for the future, that there are more unhappy
physicians, and that he hears more discussion about finances
than about medical issues.
"We thought we could do everything when I
was a resident," he remembers, "so we did everything. No one
complained about working hard."
He's proud to help launch the next generation.
"I did what I found fun," he says, "and I've trained a fair
number of residents who've gone on to be successful in their
careers." He has four kids of his own - "all grown up, all
successful, all happy," he says.
Over the course of his career, the physician
has never shied away from national responsibilities. Today,
he's chair of the American Board of OB/GYN and a member of
the Executive Committee of the American Board of Medical Specialties,
and travels worldwide giving lectures on his work.
Never one to rest on his laurels, 15 years
ago Weiss decided to take his love of water activities to
the next level. With several fellows in his department, he
earned his scuba diving certification and dove headlong into
a new world. Since then, he has taken 270 dives.
On his most recent dive in the Gulf of Aqaba
at the tip of Sinai, he descended solo 80 feet and was awed
by schools of unicorn fish, barracudas, dolphins, clown fish
and corals. "It's an out-of-body experience," he says.
the only time you'll ever see a whole new world." It's for
this continuing ability to meet the challenges of his profession
and life headlong that Gerson Weiss continues to be one of
America's "top docs."