As It Happens

Doctor killed in Pittsburgh remembered by patients as a 'totally dedicated' physician

When Pittsburgh resident Jerry Schmitt picked up a stomach bug in India, his family physician Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz would call him every day to check up on him.

'He was probably just a little bit over 5 feet tall, but he was a lion,' patient says of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was killed in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. His family, colleagues and patients are remembering him as a compassionate and dedicated family physician. (Submitted by Avishai Ostrin)

When Pittsburgh resident Jerry Schmitt picked up a stomach bug in India, his family physician Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz would call him every day to check up on him. 

"It would probably be 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock at night Pittsburgh time, and I'd be in India but I would see his name pop up on my phone and think, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Schmitt told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"That was his style. That's the way he treated his patients. Totally dedicated."

Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician, was one of 11 people killed on Saturday when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

Also killed were David and Cecil Rosenthal, 54 and 59-year-old brothers; Sylvan Simon, 86, and his wife Bernice Simon, 84; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, Irving Younger, 69, and Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill.

Rabinowitz is being remembered for his infectious smile, his assortment of colourful bowties and his seemingly bottomless well of patience and compassion — especially for vulnerable patients.

Trans, HIV patients speak out 

Rabinowitz was Schmitt's doctor for 35 years. 

"He was probably just a little bit over five feet tall, but he was a lion," Schmitt said. 

He was the kind of doctor who would sit down with you and go over every detail of your test results, Schmitt said, even if he had a waiting room packed with other patients.

"It was like he had all the time in the world," he said. "He was always that way."

One former patient says Rabinowitz established a reputation as a trustworthy doctor to visit for HIV treatment.

"In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh he was [the] one to go to. Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest," Michael Kerr wrote on Facebook.

"He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office," Kerr wrote.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, right, hugs Rabbi Cheryl Klein, left, and Rabbi Jonathan Perlman during a community gathering held in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (The Associated Press)

Olivia Tucker told the Associated Press that her grandmother was treated for cancer by Rabinowitz. Tucker, who is transgender, also visited him for a checkup.

"He's the only doctor who ever has made a misstep about my trans-ness, and followed it up with really insightful questions with the purpose of learning and growth," Tucker said.

"I felt blessed to have had him."

Helping people until the very end 

UPMC Shadyside, where Rabinowitz was a faculty member, said in a statement that "the UPMC family ... cannot even begin to express the sadness and grief we feel over the loss."

"Those of us who worked with him respected and admired his devotion to his work and faith. His loss is devastating," Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer, wrote in a statement on Twitter.

Rabinowitz's nephew said that devotion extended to his uncle's final moments. 

"I just learned a short while ago that although the shooter traveled within the building looking for victims, Uncle Jerry wasn't killed in the basement of the building where the congregation was Davening, he was shot outside the room," Avishai Ostrin wrote on Facebook.

"Why? Because when he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that's just what he did."

When Schmitt was asked about the stories of Rabinowitz reportedly running towards danger to help others during the chaotic shooting, he said: "That sounds like my doctor."

"He asked me once when I was going to retire and, and I said to him, 'Oh, I don't know, Jerry. I think about it sometimes.' And I got really scared and I asked him, 'When are you going to retire?'" Schmitt said. 

"He said he's not going anywhere, and I said, 'I don't know what I would do if you weren't in my life.' And here I am. He's not in my life. It's not right."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview with Jerry Schmitt produced by Katie Geleff. 


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