Kenneth Rosenzweig, MD ‘92, already had a significant interest in cancer patient care – when a YSM classmate discussed her own cancer treatment experiences.
“We were relaxing in the dorm and Lauren Weinstein had been receiving radiation as part of her treatment for her cancer,” Rosenzweig said. “She thought my personality was a good fit for the field. I still had to discover radiation oncology for myself, but it was something I kept in the back of my head.”
That same classmate – namesake for the Lauren Weinstein Award, established in 1992 – died of metastatic cancer during her second year at Yale School of Medicine, before Rosenzweig graduated.
Her verbal guidance helped propel Rosenzweig to a 25-year career caring for patients with lung cancer and mesothelioma. Rosenzweig, professor and chairman of the department of radiation oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, was recently named a 2021 Lung Cancer Hero by the Cure Media Group. Rosenzweig’s research efforts have been aimed at fine tuning radiation therapy techniques to improve accuracy of treatments and limit side effects.
Rosenzweig’s early affection for radiation oncology was bolstered by a fourth-year elective course at YSM. Its potential for interaction with patient care confirmed he was moving in the right direction. “It was really just a perfect fit for me,” Rosenzweig said. “We spend an enormous amount of time with patients during a very difficult time in their lives and we form very close bonds. It has the best of everything – the cutting edge technology and patient care aspects, as well.”
If the importance of patient care was clear to Rosenzweig after Weinstein’s death, it became urgent when his father was struck by a similar diagnosis. A couple of years after Rosenzweig became a lung cancer specialist in 1997, his father developed metastatic lung cancer. “Unfortunately, he did not respond well to treatment and he died shortly thereafter,” Rosenzweig said. “On another level, I think it really helps to honor my father’s legacy for me to get the (Hero) award acknowledging that I made some contributions in the field of lung cancer.”
Over a quarter century, Rosenzweig has gone from mentee to mentor. He credited the wisdom of the late Richard Peschel, MD, PhD, professor emeritus of therapeutic radiology, as having established a solid base from which Rosenzweig could prepare for future responsibilities. And the culture at YSM fueled his inquisitiveness. “If we didn’t have that thesis requirement, there could have been some complacency that … we knew the medical knowledge and were satisfied with that,” Rosenzweig said. “But the sense that we need to push the field further along, even if it’s in a small way, that sets the tone and culture for everyone’s careers going forward.”
Training the next generation of physicians has been rewarding. “To see residents’ careers develop and for them to make major contributions in patients’ lives and how we treat the disease has been perhaps the most satisfying aspect of my career,” Rosenzweig said.
In addition to an enthusiasm for mentorship within medicine, Rosenzweig assigns great importance to the act of giving back to his community. In his third term as a city councilman in his hometown of Englewood, New Jersey, Rosenzweig’s political service enables him to talk about science and studies during conversations with neighbors and other residents – a responsibility that has carried an added importance during the last two years. “There is definitely a need for people who understand the science to help bring that to their communities in a healthy way,” Rosenzweig said. “Obviously, not everyone can be nutty like me and hold elected office, but there are still a lot of roles physicians and other science-based people can play in their hometowns to help a community and make sure everyone’s interests are being represented.”
YSM represents many things to Rosenzweig. He met his spouse there, Stacey Berg Rosenzweig, MD ‘92. Faculty members monitored his progress and interests and became lifelong friends. It all led to his personal contribution to alleviating the suffering of lung cancer patients. “Yale’s focus on innovative treatments and the latest advances in medical science has been instrumental throughout my career,” Rosenzweig said. “At Yale we were never taught to pass tests. We were encouraged to be free and independent thinkers, to figure things out for ourselves and to do research if we weren’t satisfied with the answers.”
Some answers came directly from classmates. “It wasn’t until later that I connected the field I was going into was the one Lauren Weinstein told me about when she had been ill,” Rosenzweig said. “That definitely – through the heartache and grief of that – brought the class much closer together.”