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Faculty and students bid farewell to someone who “does everything”

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2010 - Autumn


When it came time to bid farewell to Gisella Weissbach-Licht, no one could think of anything that she didn’t do during her 29 years of service to the medical school.

“The clear explanation is that she does everything,” said Robert Rohrbaugh, M.D. ’82, HS ’86, FW ’88, deputy chair for education and career development in the Department of Psychiatry.

“Nothing runs smoothly unless you’re involved,” medical student Josh Leinwand said privately to Weissbach-Licht. She made it possible, he said, for students to obtain podcasts of missed classes. “Students coming in next year will never know there was a time that the podcasts weren’t there.”

Rohrbaugh and Leinwand joined faculty and students in Cohen Auditorium in June to bid farewell to Weissbach-Licht, who retired after 29 years of service to Yale. As director of curriculum management, Weissbach-Licht oversaw the coordination, planning, and evaluation of the medical student curriculum. For students and teachers, this oversight is indeed “everything.”

Soft jazz played at the party behind a slideshow tribute to the retiring director as the room filled with well-wishers, who lined up to thank her for all she has done over the years. “You’ve got one more hug, and then we have to start,” Richard Belitsky, M.D., deputy dean for education, said into a microphone as he prepared to give his opening remarks. Students Larissa Chiulli and Aaron Feinstein echoed the notion that Weissbach-Licht simply does everything. “I don’t understand the intricacies of her job,” Chiulli said, “but I think she has super powers.” Feinstein called her “everything that is good about Yale.”

Then one faculty member after another came to the podium to praise the director’s apparent tirelessness and present her with gifts. “She was there every day to say ‘Good morning’ when you came in and ‘Good night’ when you left,” said co-worker Dorothy Meyer, executive assistant to the deputy dean for education, of her colleague’s long hours. When Eve Colson, M.D., became director of the clerkship in pediatrics, she did not dream she would ever need to call Weissbach-Licht’s cell phone. She admits now to dialing the number thousands of times. Other colleagues mentioned 2 a.m. e-mails from Weissbach-Licht and her “vacation” days spent working from home. And many faculty members noted that Weissbach-Licht’s work was so often performed behind the scenes. “She never expected glory,” said Nancy R. Angoff, M.P.H. ’81, M.D. ’90, HS ’93, associate dean for student affairs.

Still, for every allusion to Weissbach-Licht’s work ethic, there was another reference to her love of hiking, gardening, and walking her dogs—each depicted repeatedly in the looping slides. And Margaret J. Bia, M.D., director of the clinical skills training program, poked fun at Weissbach-Licht’s own medical beliefs—“Health according to Gisella.” Weissbach-Licht, Bia said, was phenomenally intelligent and worked in the medical profession yet often eschewed mainstream medicine in favor of her mother’s German folk remedies.

Through the humor, storytelling, and praise the message was clear. Faculty and students have come to love and depend on Weissbach-Licht, and say that she cannot be replaced. According to Belitsky, her “fierce commitment to education” and “encyclopedic command” of information are unparalleled. Upon her departure, the office of education will reorganize to “honor what she created and continue her tradition of excellence.” Belitsky is confident that Weissbach-Licht has “positioned the school for tremendous success for many years to come.”