“My father was a surgeon, a charismatic and well-respected man. He served as an inspiration for me. But it was an undergraduate college course in the structure of the cell that motivated me to become a pathologist.”
"I was fascinated by morphology or structure, which made pathology the perfect specialty for me," says Sharon Weiss. Today, Weiss is widely regarded as probably the leading soft tissue pathologist in the United States if not the world. Nominating her to be a Local Legend of Medicine, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said, "She serves as consultant for 'second opinions' to physicians and patients world wide."
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Weiss completed an internship residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital where she also served as the Chief Resident in pathology, the first woman in the history of the hospital to hold that position.
After Johns Hopkins she moved on to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology where she began her study of soft tissue tumors and started publishing extensively on the subject (more than 125 peer-reviewed articles) culminating in the publication of her book, Soft Tissue Tumors (1982), a 1,600 page textbook which is now in its fourth edition and has been translated into many languages.
Weiss went on to the University of Michigan where she became a professor of pathology before being actively recruited by Emory University where she directs and supervises the anatomic pathology labs throughout the Emory Healthcare system. She is currently the only woman member of the Emory Healthcare Board of Directors.
Weiss says she enjoys the experience of looking at a tissue specimen. "I get a certain aesthetic pleasure from looking at a pathology slide. In fact, my office walls are adorned with pictures taken from my pathology slides." She also loves the challenge of solving the medical puzzle and admits there's a thrill to making a correct diagnosis. If she discovers no cancer cells then she can save someone from the stresses of chemotherapy and radiation, she's delighted. But conversely, if she discovers cancerous cells, then perhaps she can save a life.
Weiss has received much national and international recognition for her accomplishments, including the Maude Abbott Award and Lecture (lifetime achievement award from the United States-Canadian Academy of Pathology) and the Fred Stewart award (outstanding contributions to understanding of human cancer give by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). When the World Health Organization had to select one individual to lead its efforts in the international classification of soft tissue tumors, Weiss was chosen.
Outside her pathology practice, Weiss pursues her interest as a patisserie chef. She makes elaborate wedding cakes with intricate decorations ("the cakes also taste very good"). She sees no contradiction with this interest in cake making and decorating and her career as a pathologist. "I'm a very visual person and I think visual people gravitate towards pathology," says Weiss. "Being a patisserie chef is just another way of satisfying my visual interests," she notes.
Publication of textbook, Soft Tissue Tumors (now in its fourth edition)
Maude Abbott Lecture and Award, United States-Canadian Academy of Pathology, Lifetime Achievement Award
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine